Book review of 'Mala’s Cat'
Mala’s Cat: A Memoir of Survival in World War II by Mala Kacenberg. Pegasus Books, 2022. Hardcover, 288 pages, $27.95.
I have to make a confession. Although I have read countless Holocaust memoirs, I approach each new one with trepidation. As a blind woman whose late husband was Jewish, I find Holocaust stories even more terrifying since I realize what fate would have awaited my husband and me. So, I can’t quite explain why I was so drawn to Mala’s Cat, Mala Kacenberg’s tale of survival as a young Jewish girl who endured life under Hitler’s rule. I am so glad I was, though.
Mala’s childhood came to an abrupt end one horrific day as she returned home from begging for food for her starving family, who, along with the rest of their Polish village, had been living under Nazi brutality. She watched as the Gestapo rounded up all the village’s residents. As she slipped back into the safety of the forest with her cat, Mala knew she would never see her family again.
For the next six years, Mala, a blue-eyed blonde, evaded capture through her Christian appearance, her wits and, most of all, the uncanny assistance of her devoted feline companion, Malach, whose name means “angel” in Hebrew. Time and time again, Malach warned Mala of impending danger, led her to unexpected sources of help and appeared suddenly when Mala thought she had become lost miles away. Suffice it to say, Malach was no ordinary cat; Mala believed she was a guardian angel.
Following her immigration to England at the war’s end, Mala never saw Malach again. Eventually marrying and settling into an Orthodox community in London, Mala knew she was meant to share her story, bearing witness to the atrocities she had lived through so that, by remembering the past, humanity might not repeat the same mistakes. Writing slowly over years, she finished the manuscript, which was published by a small religious press. Following their mother’s death, Mala’s five adult children brought the manuscript to light again in a time when the world sorely needs its message.
It's not an easy book to read in parts, but I read Mala’s Cat in one day, so caught up was I in this story of courage, survival and, I believe, a cat who lived up to her name.