An Uncommon Journey
From Vienna to Shanghai to America
A Brother and Sister Escape to Freedom During World War II
By Deborah Strobin and Ilie Wacs

An Uncommon Journey - Book Reviews / Endorsements
An Uncommon Journey
ISBN: 978-1-56980-452-0
Publisher: Barricade Books


"When you're ready to make the movie, call me! What a compelling memoir and incredible story of survival for this brother and sister. I love this book!"

--- Cybill Shepherd, Actress




Publishers Weekly


"...Captivating and straightforward, and the humor and honesty with which Strobin and Wacs tell their story is enlightening."



Sister and brother Strobin and Wacs look back across a gulf of over half a century to tell the story of their emigration from Vienna on the eve of WWII to the relative safety of China, and finally to America. Detailing the lesser-known plight of the Jews who sought shelter in the slums of Shanghai, Strobin and Wacs' youth is rendered with a compelling mix of innocence and candor, melding globally profound history with common childhood scenes, as when Strobin explains, "People couldn't afford to bury the dead…I jumped over the bodies on my way to school." Alternating between Strobin's and Wacs' accounts of their experiences, the book covers everything from young Wacs' girl-fueled teenage angst to the terror of American bomber planes attacking the occupying Japanese forces. Now living on opposite American coasts--Strobin in San Francisco and Wacs in New York--the story of survival stretches to the present day, illuminating how war-torn childhood influenced each author's life. A fashion designer and painter, Wacs writes, "I'd survived Hitler in Vienna and the ghetto in Shanghai. I could survive the fashion industry in New York."  Photos. (Oct.) Reviewed February 20, 2012


"An Uncommon Journey proves once and for all, that reality is stranger than fiction. We watch Ilie and Dorit as they escape from Vienna to Shanghai to America during World War II. This difficult past gives them the strength for their ultimate journey, the one to find themselves. Written from both of their perspectives, this book is harrowing drama, part love story, part adventure. But it is its truthfulness that shines through, as we read - almost in disbelief - about the lives of this brother and sister. It is a compelling read."

--- Marvin Hamlisch, Composer




The Midwest Book Review

"Recommended for any collection strong in Jewish issue... a powerful, evocative story"


AN UNCOMMON JOURNEY: FROM VIENNA TO AMERICA A BROTHER AND SISTER ESCAPE TO FREEDOM DURING WORLD WAR II is a recommendation for any collection strong in Jewish issues, Holocaust studies, and more, providing a powerful story of a family that escaped Nazi Austria to begin new lives in Shanghai. Shanghai had a large population of Jews who had fled from many countries, and this memoir documents the experiences of a brother and sister ten years apart who share different experiences of the event in a powerful, evocative story. 
Reviewed February 2012


"A brother and sister tale of family survival in Shanghai's Jewish community and their remarkable lives in America. This book reminds us of our strength and vitality and is cause for celebration."

--- Anne Roiphe, Writer/journalist and author of 18 books of fiction and non-fiction.




Jewish Book Council


"While there is no comprehensive volume on the escape of 18,000 Jews to Shanghai during the Holocaust, there are about twenty memoirs by refugees who were saved there. What sets this one apart is that the events are seen from the perspectives of two young children. Deborah was three and her brother Ilie twelve..."


Both Deborah and Ilie attended the Jewish school, but painfully, both remember the hunger pains they suffered. Their lunch, brought from home, was one slice of bread which Deborah placed on the radiator to make toast. Ilie was sent to pawn his mother’s wedding ring when they had no money for food. Deborah had but one doll, with no arms. They lived in Shanghai with no family, no uncles or aunts, no cousins or grandparents, surrounded by cholera, typhus, and dysentery. They also remember that this refugee community produced newspapers and opera companies, radio programs, and lectures on Chinese culture. German Jews looked down on Austrian Jews, and both looked down on Eastern European Jews. Both Deborah and Ilie describe the American bombing of July 17, 1945 when the Jewish ghetto was hit. This was their finest hour, as Jews and Chinese worked together to help the injured and put out the fires. The Chinese, to this day, remember with pride how the two communities both struggled and worked together to help each other. Deborah and Ilie both participated in this rescue and remember it well. On a chance visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Deborah suddenly saw her photo on the wall. The result is this book, which is well worth reading.
Reviewed June, 2012


"An Uncommon Journey is a riveting account of an Austrian Jewish family's roundabout flight to freedom during WWII, a testimonial to the powers of adaptation, ingenuity, and family unity, with a bit of luck thrown in. The memoir's dual authors - who are brother and sister - combine suspense, history, and great story-telling, finding improbable moments of humor in their perilous journey. A fresh, valuable addition to the literature  on the period."

--- Erica Abeel, Entertainment journalist and author of the novel Conscience Point




East Hampton Star

"An intimate, sometimes poignant, look at a family that kept going, out of affection and loyalty to one another and despite the cruel vagaries of history."


Part of this book’s uniqueness is its format. While the overall story is told chronologically — from childhood in Vienna, which Dorit (Deborah) is too young to remember firsthand, to competent adulthood in the United States — the narration alternates between sections headed “Brother” and those headed “Sister.” They often cover the same material, though from different viewpoints, which adds nuance. Each contributor has a distinctive voice. That those voices are quite different is jarring at first, but, ultimately, it leads to a clear understanding of precisely who each of the authors is.
Reviewed May 24, 2012


"It is rare to find a memoir written with an immediacy of emotion and observation that recaptures the moment of everything that happened at the time it happened. An Uncommon Journey is a captivating account of survival and triumph, from the pogrom in Vienna to the misery of wartime Shanghai to finding happiness ultimately in America. I consider it one of the great accounts of family and survival. It is both remarkable and beautiful."

--- Peter Sichel, Wine grower for fifty years, is writing his memoirs of 16 years in the OSS and CIA after escaping from the Nazis.




Montreal Book Examiner


"…An Uncommon Journey is a poignant tale of courage and human resilience…"


… that left lifetime scars affecting the authors and their parents in different ways, even to the extent that their perceptions of the same events never seem to be the same or as stated in the book's jacket, “The truth becomes a mosaic with many facets, creating a moving portrait of a family uprooted.” As Deborah concludes, “I never wanted to tell this story. My childhood in China, I detested. I spent the entirety of my life avoiding these memories, putting the past behind me, trying to forget, trying to compensate for what was lost.” For Elie, growing up in Shanghai taught him that life is transitory, and as he asserts: “you need to choose very carefully what is important to you. Were there any other lessons to be learned from that suffering? Any other redeeming insight that guided my choices?”

After reading An Uncommon Journey we no doubt will be left with the lingering question -what would have happened if there were more nations in the world that accepted Jews during the time of the Holocaust?

Reviewed May 22, 2012


"Thousands of books have been written in many languages of survivors of the Holocaust, one of the greatest tragedies in history. Although there is a shared experience, each is different. An Uncommon Journey is about one family, father, mother, son and daughter who were lucky to have been able to find a place on a ship that brought them to Shanghai on their journey to America. It is about survival against all odds. I could not put it down."

--- Ernest Michel, Survivor of WWII and author of Promises to Keep and Promises Kept


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