Fania's Heart tells the moving story of Fania (Landau) Fainer who was a forced labourer at the munitions factory at Auschwitz. In 1944, Zlata Sznajderhaus also a worker at Auschwitz, came up with the idea to make a small booklet in the shape of heart for Fania's twentieth birthday. The heart would be the only thing Fania had left after the war.
Fania was born in 1924 in Bialystock, Poland. One day while out on the street, Fania was singled out because she had the required yellow Jewish star on her clothing and arrested. She was first sent to Lomza Prison and then deported to Stutthof forced labour camp. She would never see her parents nor her brother Leybl or sister Mushke again. From Stutthof, Fania was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943 where she was selected to work as a labourer in the Weichsel Union Metallwerke munitions factory next to the camp. She was only eighteen-years-old. Every morning she was awoken at 5 a.m. and marched to the factory after being given a ration of bread. Every day was a tremendous struggle to survive.
With the approach of her birthday, Fania mentioned to the girls she had come to befriend at the factory that she would be turning twenty soon. Wanting to do something special for her friend, Zlatka Pitluk managed to obtain scissors and paper with the help of the other girls in the factory. She had always loved to draw hearts and with a pencil drew twenty hearts.
The heart's pages were glued together with a mixture of bread and water - a tremendous sacrifice since workers received very little of either. Zlatka then passed the heart booklet on to the other eighteen young women, who managed to keep it hidden and signed the pages with messages and best wishes. Those young women were Berta, Bronia, Cesia, Eva Pany, Fela, Gusia, Hanka, Hanka W., Helene, Irene, Liza, Mala, Mania, Mazal, Mina, Rachela, Ruth and Tonia and Zlatka. Mania wrote, "Freedom, freedom, freedom."
On Fania's birthday, December 12, 1944 the heart was passed carefully down the table hidden in a small "cake" made of bread and water and jam. Although the cake and the heart-shaped booklet were not discovered, the Kapos became suspicious because Zlatka was moving at their table. One of the Kapos who was a prostitute, decided to search Zlatka who was wearing her favourite purple blouse beneath the striped uniform worn in Auschwitz. Upon discovering the blouse she questioned Zlatka as to how she was able to pass the inspections each morning and who was inspecting her. Zlatka courageously told the Kapo that she was the one inspecting her and was promptly slapped. She then took Zlatka into another room and abused her.
When Auschwitz was evacuated a month later in January 1945 as the Soviet army advanced westward into Poland, the inmates were sent on a death march. Fania carried the treasured heart underneath her arm to avoid detection. Over 15,000 inmates died on the march, but Fania survived, eating grass along the way. She was then deported to Ravensbruck Womens Camp.
The heart survived the war as did Fania. When she moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1949, she brought the heart with her. It now resides in the Montreal Holocaust Museum after Fania donated it in 1988.
This poignant story of resistance and humanity in the face of evil is told in Renaud's picture book, Fania's Heart. Fania's story is told through the eyes of her daughter, Sandy who finds her mother's heart booklet when she was ten years old. Sandy questions her mother about the strange little book and learns the story of how it came to be. The heart booklet stands as a testament to the power of the human spirit to endure in the darkest moments. Richard Rudnicki's watercolour illustrations help bring Fania's story to life. The back matter contains a detailed Author's Note with further information and photographs. Fania's Heart is a great resource to help young readers understand the reality of the Holocaust.
Fania's Heart by Anne Renaud
Toronto: Second Story Press 2018