It Is the Power of the Mind to Be Unconquerable
I Shall Live, the story of Henry Orenstein
My Uncle Henry Orenstein passed away Tuesday at the age of 98. Henry was a brilliant man who led an amazing life.
“Born in Hrubieszów, Poland, in 1923, Orenstein spent the Holocaust hiding with his family before a lack of food and water forced them to turn themselves in to the Nazis. His parents were subsequently murdered, and Orenstein and his brother transferred to a German concentration camp where he managed to survive by pretending to be a scientist. . .
He came to the US in 1947 and became a wildly successful toymaker, most notably for creating the Transformers toy line. The figurines have since inspired numerous adaptations, from a comic book series to an animated TV show and the blockbuster film franchise.” (Source: New York Post)
Much has been written about different aspects of Henry’s life and his many accomplishments. Outlets published numerous articles about him this week, and Newsweek ran a major profile of him a few years ago telling his life story.
There’s also much I could say about my personal memories of Henry and the times spent with him and my aunt Susie (my mom’s sister). Since I’m a writer I will focus on recommending the magnificent book Henry wrote about his extraordinary experiences during the war years, I Shall Live.
I Shall Live tells the gripping true story of a Jewish family in Germany and Russia as the Nazi party gains power in Germany. When Henry Orenstein and his siblings end up in a series of concentrations camps, Orenstein's bravery and quick thinking help him to save himself and his brothers from execution by playing a role in the greatest hoax ever pulled on the upper echelons of Nazi command. Orenstein's lucid prose recreates this horrific time in history and his constant struggle for survival as the Nazis move him and his brothers through five concentration camps. His description of their roles in the fake Chemical Commando sheds new light on an incredible and generally unknown event in the history of the Holocaust.
Henry’s story had a lasting effect on me, as it did on anyone who knew him. When I think of Henry, I think of a quote by the ancient Roman philosopher, Seneca. I ran across this quote a number of years ago, and was immediately reminded of Henry.
Seneca said, “It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.”
That was Henry, to me. If you spent any time with him, you could always see his brilliant mind at work. Being with him, you could get a sense of how he used his incredible intelligence and his almost supernatural ability to read situations and other people to keep himself and those around him alive during the war years, never succumbing to the relentless hardships, torture, and inhumanity of the Nazis. A lesson I take away from my relationship with him is that through any form of oppression ever devised, no matter how terrible, a powerful human mind like Henry’s can remain unconquerable.
. . . .
My book, Under a Poacher’s Moon, is continuing to collect reviews and is currently being made into an Audiobook, which will be available on or shortly after release of the Ebook and Paperback versions on February 1, 2022. It remains available for Pre-Order now.
Praise for Under a Poacher’s Moon
"An American woman looks for adventure on safari and instead finds a passion for a cause in Vandiver's debut novel . . . Vandiver has carefully and cleverly crafted a tale with an endearing and relatable protagonist. Over the course of the tale, the author not only draws on his experience and knowledge of the story's landscape--he's an attorney and conservationist--but also shows a great ability to delve into a varied range of human experience. He treats all his characters with notable empathy, effectively showing how one's perspective is shaped by one's choices and circumstances. This is not a straightforward good-versus-evil story, but it is a complex and engaging one. An exciting and thought-provoking work that will stay with readers." Kirkus Reviews
"Under a Poacher's Moon is a compelling, character-driven thriller that digs into Africa's beauty and poverty . . . it's alive with vivid descriptions of the African landscape and animals ("this terribly gorgeous specimen of muscle, sinew, teeth, claw, mane") plus memorable characters." BookLife Reviews
"W. Aaron Vandiver's descriptions of Africa's lush natural wonders weave a magical web that's hard to escape . . . The exotic wildlife and lush landscapes evoke a sense of primal passion, which Vandiver captures perfectly in prose." IndieReader
"In the novel Under a Poacher's Moon, a woman facing an uncertain future undertakes an exciting adventure in the African bush . . . suspenseful and unpredictable." Foreword Clarion Reviews
"A stunning and heartrending adventure story. W. Aaron Vandiver's impressive debut novel transports the reader to the bushveld of Africa . . . Vandiver delivers a gut-wrenching story about the scourge of poaching. Message novels can be heavyhanded, polemic. This is not. It is a nuanced, even a compassionate tale about evil and heartbreak. Highly recommended." Len Joy, author of Everyone Dies Famous, Better Days, and Dry Heat.
"An impassioned conservationist, Vandiver clearly understands the intricate complexities of wildlife conservation . . . [an] involving tale with unsettling revelations at its core." BlueInk Review