Mendel's Daughter

A Memoir

Mendel's Daughter

In 1989 Martin Lemelman videotaped his mother, Gusta, as she opened up about her childhood in 1930s Poland and her eventual escape from Nazi persecution. Mendel's Daughter, now in paperback and selected as one of the best books of 2006 by the Austin Chronicle, is Lemelman's loving transcription of his mother's harrowing testimony, bringing her narrative to life with his own powerful black-and-white drawings, interspersed with reproductions of actual photographs, documents and other relics from that era. The result is a wholly original, authentic and moving account of hope and survival in a time of despair.

Gusta's story opens with a portrait of shtetl life, filled with homey images that evoke the richness of food and flowers, of family and friends and of Jewish tradition. Soon, however, Gusta's girlhood is cut short as her family experiences Hitler's rise, rumors of war, invasion, occupation, round-ups and pogroms, forcing Gusta into flight and hiding.

Mendel's Daughter is Martin Lemelman's solemn and stirring testament to his mother's bravery and a celebration of her perseverance. The devastatingly simple power of a mother's words and a son's illustrations combine to create a work that is both intensely personal and universally resonant. Mendel's Daughter combines an unforgettable true story with elegant, haunting illustrations to shed new light on one of history's darkest periods.
  • Free Press | 
  • 240 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416552215 | 
  • October 2007
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
Mendel's Daughter
by Martin Lemelman

Mendel's Daughter is a powerful true story of hope and survival in the darkest of times. Told from the perspective of the author's mother, Gusta, Mendel's Daughter details the experiences of growing up as a Jewish child in 1930's Poland. It opens with a picture of shtetl (village) life, filled with homey images that bring to life the richness of foods and flowers, of family and friends and Jewish tradition.
The book then transitions into darker times as Gusta and her family are witness to the rise of Hitler, instability in Europe, rumors of war, invasion, occupation, roundups and pogroms. When the Nazis come to round up her family, Gusta and two of her brothers, and later a younger sister, are already hiding in a forest in Poland. Her parents and her other siblings perish, but for two years Gusta and her remaining siblings hide in grave-like trenches in the forest and thereby survive.
Martin Lemelman employs video testimony that his mother recorded in 1989 as the basis for writing his family memoir. Thus, Gusta's harrowing tale is told in her own voice, while her son's beautiful drawings serve as illustrations. Interspersed with the drawings are actual photos of people, documents, and other relics of this unsettled time. The result is a wholly original, authentic, and moving account of heroism and endurance in t see more

About the Author

Martin Lemelman
Photo Credit:

Martin Lemelman

Martin Lemelman grew up in the back of a candy store in Brooklyn, New York, and is the child of Holocaust survivors. He has been a freelance illustrator since 1976. His client list includes Groliers, Children's Television Workshop, Scholastic, Parent's Magazine Press, Crayola and the Jewish Publication Society, among others. He has illustrated more than thirty children's books and his work has appeared in numerous magazines. Martin is a Professor in the Communication Design Department at Kutztown University. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his wife. They are the parents of four wonderful sons.