Jack Sutin and Rochelle Sutin

Jack and Rochelle

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Jack and Rochelle Summary

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Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance is a Holocaust memoir by Jack and Rochelle Sutin. First published in 1995, the book describes how the Sutins fell in love during the Holocaust, and how they survived the Nazis by fleeing into the Polish forests. The book won both the 1996 Minnesota Book Award for Biography, and the 1996 Society of Midland Authors Award for Biography. The Sutins were Jewish freedom fighters during World War II. Their son, Lawrence Sutin, edited the book.

At the outset, the Sutins explain why they wrote the book. They want to encourage people to share their Holocaust stories. They worry that silence breeds ignorance and serves as a barrier between the generations. Although they admit their joint story is traumatic, it must be told. Moreover, the Sutins note that they didn’t survive through any ingenuity or superiority—they survived thanks to luck and twists of fate. They didn’t deserve to survive the Holocaust any more than the millions of Jews who weren’t so lucky.

Rochelle begins the book by describing her early years. Her parents met in Poland right after World War One. They didn’t have a happy marriage, although Rochelle couldn’t see this at the time. She has bigger problems—the hatred and intolerance she faces every day from the Polish people. The Poles, she explains, hate the Jews at the time, and she doesn’t have an easy childhood.

Although Rochelle’s parents encourage her to get an education, she can only go so far in this divided Poland. She describes how she can’t get into Polish schools because she’s Jewish, and one school only relents when her father pays a very large sum of money. She can’t understand why Jews are singled out for abuse, and she doesn’t realize how much worse it’s going to get.

Jack then describes meeting Rochelle for the first time. Jack saw Rochelle around many times before working up the courage to talk to her. He explains how strict Rochelle’s parents were, and he didn’t want to offend them by asking Rochelle on a date. When Jack later moves out of the neighbourhood, he doesn’t think he’ll ever see Rochelle again. He doesn’t know then that Rochelle will later become the most important person in his life.

Hatred towards the Jews gets worse quickly. Jews are forced into ghettos where they live in overcrowded squalor. Rochelle and Jack live in separate ghettos miles away from each other. They, like many Jews, are plotting a way out of their ghettos. Their reasons for fleeing, however, are quite different.

Rochelle explains that, when she escapes the ghetto, she doesn’t want to live anymore. She hopes that the Nazis catch and kill her. A quick death is better, she laments, than waiting for hunger, disease, or poverty to kill her off. She’s almost surprised when she breaks out of the ghetto alive. She doesn’t really have a plan for where to go next or what to do.

Jack, on the other hand, desperately wants to live. He plans on getting far away from the ghetto and starting a new life somewhere else. He believes that there’s a better life out there waiting for him. His instincts tell him that he’ll see Rochelle again, but he doesn’t dare believe his own thoughts.

Jack makes his way to Naliboki Forest. Here, he leads Jewish partisans against the Germans. They hide in the forest and they hunt when they can. They’re only a small group, but they find it better this way—it’s easier to stay hidden when there’s only a few people. However, they can’t hide forever, and they soon encounter another Jewish group.

Jews, led by Simcha Zorin, stumble across Jack’s party. Rochelle is part of this new group. She recognizes Jack immediately and she’s grateful to recognize a friendly face.

Although the groups find it hard to work together at first, it’s not long before they’re cooperating and thriving. The longer Jack and Rochelle are together, the closer they become until a romance develops between them.

The book describes the daily struggles faced by the group. They struggle to source enough food, water, and shelter, and they disagree about what to do next. The couple describes their German encounters and what life was like living in a dense forest for so many years. Although their story is only one of many survival stories, it offers a unique perspective into Jews who narrowly avoided the concentration camps.

The book doesn’t just focus on life during World War II. It also touches on how Jack and Rochelle adjust to post-war life. They struggle to return home, and they realize it will never be the same again. All that’s certain is that, from the moment they met again in the forest, there was no turning back. They have been together ever since. Jack and Rochelle is as much a love story as it is a memoir.