Originally published: 20 January 2022
Author: Mala Kacenberg
Published by: Michael Joseph
Length: 320 pages
Reading Dates: 12-16 January 2022
Alone in a forest with only a cat for company – this is the deeply moving true story of one little girl’s remarkable survival in the shadow of the Holocaust.
Growing up in the Polish village of Tarnogrod, on the fringes of a deep pine forest, Mala has the happiest childhood anyone could hope for.
But, when the Nazis invade, her beloved village becomes a ghetto and family and friends are reduced to starvation. Taking matters into her own hands, she bravely removes her yellow star, and sneaks out to the surrounding villages for food.
On her way back she receives a smuggled letter from her sister warning her to stay away: her loved ones have been rounded up for deportation. With only her cat, Malach, and the strength of the stories taught by her family, she must flee into the forest.
Malach becomes her family, her only respite from loneliness, a guide and reminder to stay hopeful even in the darkness.
With her guardian angel by her side, Mala must find a way to navigate the dangerous forests, outwit German soldiers and hostile villagers, to survive, against all the odds.
This is the true story of a young Jewish girl called Mala Szorer, who up until the age of 12, had a happy childhood living with her parents and siblings in the Polish village of Tarnograd. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, the Jewish population was persecuted and it became increasingly difficult to be a Jew with lack of food, fuel and freedom. At the age of just 12 Mala takes it upon herself to try and get food for her family, because with her Christian looks, she is able to work and beg for food without suspicion, right under the noses of the Nazi soldiers.
When her family are murdered by the Nazi’s, she travels around Poland before eventually ending up in Germany as a conscripted worker. She is in constant danger from being found out but she is ingenious in her methods of survival. Throughout her journey and ordeal, her cat Malach, whom Mala believes is her guardian angel, accompanies her and on more than one occasion Mala believes he actually saves her life.
Mala’s story is shocking – to be such a young girl, dealing with the death of her whole family and having to live a life of deception in order to survive, living in constant fear of being found out is horrific. But as well as the horror, there are many instances where the kindness of strangers, who would often put themselves in danger to help Mala, was just beautiful to hear about.
An absolutely remarkable story, Mala’s Cat is an important book – we should never stop being reminded of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Mala suffers terribly and witnesses some awful events but she was an unbelievably strong and resourceful girl and her story of survival is truly astonishing.
Thank you to Sophie at Michael Joseph for sending me a proof copy of the book.
About the author:
Mala Kacenberg (nee Szorer) was born in Tarnogrod, Poland in 1927. As World War II broke out, Mala found herself having to fend for herself at the tender age of 12. Surviving by her wits, courage and the help of a guardian angel (her cat Malach), she was the sole survivor of her family. Mala immigrated to London with other Jewish refugees after the war, where she raised a large beautiful family, living long enough to be blessed with many grandchildren.