Hiding in Plain Sight
How a Jewish Girl Survived Europe’s Heart of Darkness
Published by: Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
Imprint: Scribe US
384 Pages, 5.10 x 7.80 in
- Published: January 2023
An extraordinary Holocaust survival story about an Orthodox Jewish woman who managed to survive in wartime Poland by pretending to be a Catholic.
Polish Catholics believed she was one of them. A devoted Nazi family took her in as if she was their own daughter. She fell in love with a German engineer who built aeroplanes for the Luftwaffe. What none of these people knew was that Mala Rivka Kizel had been born into a large Orthodox Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland, in 1926. By using her charm, intelligence, blonde hair, and blue eyes to assume different identities, she was the only member of her family to survive World War II.
When Dutch journalist Pieter van Os stumbled upon Mala’s story, he set out to revive the world through which she had made her way from war-ravaged middle Europe to the nascent state of Israel before finally settling in the Netherlands. With her memoir and their interviews as guide, van Os physically retraced Mala’s steps, stopping in at local archives and remote villages, searching for anyone who might have known or helped her seventy-five years before.
At times reading like an erudite detective story, this poignant, rich book is an engrossing meditation on what drives us to fear the “other”, and what in turn might allow us to feel compassion for them.
“Hiding in Plain Sight [is a] meticulous, engaging, and thoughtful book.”
“Based on the survival story of one woman, van Os wrote a poignant and disconcerting book about the terrible fate of the Jews, and at the same time about current obsessions with national character and identity.”
—Judges’ comments from the Libris History Prize
“You rarely see a journalistic book of this narrative-literary level. A unique book that reveals on every page how much careful research and great writing power lies behind it … van Os shows the value of dwelling longer on a side path or a detail. In this way he knows how to paint a broad and multicolored image of the blackest pages of recent European history. You are reading this book in one breath.”
—Judges’ comments from the Brusse Prize for Best Dutch-language Journalistic Book
“In almost every sentence, van Os compels admiration with his elegant prose, demonstrating his erudition but never showing off or taking away from the gravity of the subject matter … Hiding in Plain Sight is more than a survival narrative. It is a history of Eastern European mentality.”
“I couldn’t stop reading. A stunning book.”
“Hiding in Plain Sight is an utterly immersive book, bringing readers into lives and places and communities, into their loss and (re)building. It is a hard book to read. As it should be.”
—Jordana Silverstein, The Conversation
“Hiding in Plain Sight is, at times, a detective story and at others, a poignant reminder that there were good people who helped, and others who lied to survive, remembering each step of the way that lying, and in turn surviving, was the best revenge of all.”
—Jessica Abelsohn, Australian Jewish News
“Journalist van Os delivers an intense and intriguing portrait of Holocaust survivor Mala Shlafer née Kizel (1926–2021), a Polish Jew who survived the Nazis by passing as an ethnic German Catholic …The result is an immersive study of survival.”
- Libris History Prize
- Brusse Prize for Best Dutch-language Journalistic Book