The Cage (Sender book)

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The Cage
Author Ruth Minsky Sender
Language English
Published 1986
Publisher Macmillan
ISBN 0-689-81321-X

The Cage, written by Ruth Minsky Sender in 1986, is a true story about the hardship and cruelty of being a Jewish person during the Holocaust. At the beginning of the book it is 1986 (when the book was written). Riva (Later changes name to Ruth) is speaking with her daughter, Nancy, when her mind is taken back in time to Lodz, Poland 1941.

Thirteen-year-old Riva Minska, her mother, three brothers and landlord are living in the same house. Soon after, though, the Germans invade Poland. At this time, Riva and her family are betrayed by their landlady and robbed of their valuables and possessions. Soon, the gates of the Lodz ghetto were shut and no one came in; they only went out.

A couple years later, chaos has spread rapidly through the ghetto. Riva's brother, Laibele, contracts tuberculosis. Her mother is taken away in a Nazi raid because she looked sick. A little while after her mother's deportation, a social worker tries to find homes for the children who now are without adult supervision. But adoption means the remains of her family will be separated. Riva protests and eventually becomes the sixteen-year-old legal guardian of her younger brothers, Laibele, Motele, and Moishele.

In the following years, Riva must fight sickness, deportation, and losing hope. In the midst of all of this, Laibele is consumed by his disease. Now Riva, Motele, and Moshiele must fight harder than ever to prevent being caught by the Nazis and deported. However, they are eventually rounded up and deported to Auschwitz. On the train to Auschwitz, Motele tells Riva that he will look out for Moshiele and try to remain with the family friends, Berl and Laibish. Motele tells Riva to remain with her friends, Karola and Rifkele.

After spending at least a week in Auschwitz, Riva and her friends, including Rifkele's long-lost friend, Tola, are deported to Mittelsteine, a labor camp.

In Mittelsteine, Riva makes the most of her friends and a miraculous gift; a piece of bread. Riva had written poetry before being deported, but she had left most of it in Poland. Now she starts writing poetry again. The cruel commandant of the camp finds out about her poetry when Riva is infected with blood poisoning. However, the commandant gives Riva a book and tells her to continue writing.

Riva and her friends escape to another labor camp some time after. There, she is killed. The Cage reminds its adolescent readers that the past must never be forgotten, and that intolerance and discrimination are harmful and must be replaced by cultural understanding and the promotion of personal differences. However, there are many lapses in the time settings of this book, and because the plot moves quickly, it leaves the author's day-to-day description of events undeveloped in places.

In Part Two of this book, Riva escapes death when she is deported to Mittelsteine after spending only one week in Auschwitz. In Mittelsteine, she is miraculously saved from a life-threatening illness by a compassionate Nazi commandant who claimed she "was sure [the Nazis] killed all [her] emotions, that all [she] can feel is hunger, all [she] can think of is bread" (234).

Although not as detailed as some other personal accounts, the book is liked because it helps the reader see the systematic breakdown of social values and the gradual elimination of Jewish rights during the Holocaust years. Readers also learn the value of different forms of passive resistance such as quiet dignity and poetry writing, two methods Riva used for courage and hope.

What is particularly impressive and heart wrenching about this book is how such a young girl has the relentless mental strength, wisdom, and physical stamina to stay alive despite the daily struggle to hide and survive for six years. By sharing her personal experiences with adolescent readers, Sender successfully gets them thinking about the devastating results of hate and prejudice.