Mala’s Cat is an autobiography account of how Mala Kacenberg (nee Szorer) survived World War 2. Mala was born into a large observant Jewish family living in Tarnogrod, Poland. Her story begins three years before the war when wild hailstorms ruined crops in her area plunging the family into poverty. The worsening economic situation affected the whole nation and caused a rise in anti-Semitic fervour. Even before the German invasion, life had become financially and religiously difficult for Mala and her family.

The German invasion quickly reduced Tarnogrod to a ghetto. However, Mala, who was now 12 years old was resourceful and resilient. She often wondered about the nearby countryside begging for food from local farms, sometimes in exchange for labour, to provide for her family.

In 1942, the Nazis shot the entire Jewish population in Tarnogrod and buried them in a mass grave. There was no longer any reason for Mala to return home. Mala managed to convince the authorities she was Polish and had lost her official paperwork in a fire. Mala’s complexion was much fairer than was usual for someone of Jewish descent plus she was fluent in Polish, unlike many Jews in her area. She was assigned to a hotel, where she worked until the end of the war.

The presence of Mala’s cat is a puzzle. As a young child, the stray cat would follow Mala whenever she left home. When the war started the cat would accompany Mala during her foraging trips. However, the cat’s behaviour was decidedly odd, often behaving more like a dog.

Through all her difficulties, Mala maintained her faith in her Jewish understanding of God. She escaped death numerous times and believed God protected and strengthen her. She even found reasons to be thankful and regularly prayed Jewish prayers.

Mala’s autobiography is a fascinating insight into a young girl’s determination, ingenuity and compassion for others during severe trials.

Thanks to the Book Curator for providing a free book for review.

An extended review of this book can be found here on Ethos – Centre for Christianity and Society. 

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