Franci's War

Franci's War

The incredible true story of one woman's survival of the Holocaust


Brought to you by Penguin.

Franci's War by Franci Epstein is read by Suzanne Toren, with an afterword, editorial notes and acknowledgements read by Helen Epstein.

What are you willing to do to survive? What are you willing to endure if it means you might live?

In the summer of 1942, twenty-two-year-old Franci Rabinek - designated a Jew by the Nazi racial laws - arrived at Terezin, a concentration camp and ghetto forty miles north of her home in Prague. It would be the beginning of her three-year journey from Terezin to the Czech family camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, to the slave labour camps in Hamburg, and finally Bergen Belsen.

Franci, a spirited and glamorous young woman, was known among her fellow inmates as the Prague dress designer. Having endured the transportation of her parents, she never forgot her mother's parting words: 'Your only duty to us is to stay alive'. During an Auschwitz selection, Franci would spontaneously lie to Nazi officer Dr Josef Mengele, and claim to be an electrician. It was a split-second decision that would go on to endanger - and save - her life.

Franci's story is an astonishing account of one woman's attempt to survive those dark years. Heartbreaking, candid, and sometimes unbearably funny, she gives voice to the women prisoners in her tight-knit circle of friends. Her testimony sheds new light on the alliances, love affairs, and sexual barter that took place during the Holocaust, offering a compelling insight into the resilience and courage of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. Above all, Franci's War asks us to explore what it takes to survive, and what it means to truly live.

© Franci Epstein 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020


  • Franci's story is a testament to the human spirit . . . a mesmerising read
    Jewish Chronicle

About the author

Franci Rabinek Epstein

Franci Rabinek Epstein was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1920 and educated at the Ecole Francaise, Lycee de Prague, and the Deutsches Staatsrealgymnasium before dropping out to apprentice in her mother's haute couture Salon. At 18, Franci became the owner of the Salon, though the family were eventually forced to 'aryanize' their Jewish business. A newlywed when she arrived at Terezin, she regarded the Nazi concentration camps as her university. After liberation by the British in April 1945, Franci would finally return to Prague, the only immediate member of her family to have survived. She married Kurt Epstein in 1946 and then, after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948, she emigrated to New York City and established a new fashion salon on the Upper West Side. She lectured at universities on her experience during the war before dying of a brain aneurysm in 1989. Her daughter, journalist Helen Epstein, has written the afterword for Franci's War.
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