See What People Are Saying About the Book

Gloria Lyon’s memoir is one of the most impressive and touching personal testimonies of a Holocaust survivor; it is intellectually ambitious and emotionally moving. She is a great teacher of humanity.

Claus Füllberg-Stolberg
Professor of History, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany


Gloria’s story is the story of triumph over the ultimate evil of the 20th century. This book will ensure that future generations will know her story of survival and renewal. May her words inspire generations to come.

John F. Rothmann
Author and Radio Talk Show Host


Miraculously, out of destruction, some eyewitnesses have lifted their experiences to light. Among these, Gloria Lyon’s story is perhaps the most remarkable. The rich texture of her memories starts before the camps and continues afterwards, marking this account profoundly applicable to any of us. How does a person live through disaster? How much of a person’s being and culture can be destroyed, and how could she find trust again?

For years Gloria Lyon told her story in my college classes, and many students changed their lives after hearing her speak. Now a wider audience can be altered for good by her gracious and gripping narrative.

Mary Felstiner
Professor Emerita of History, San Francisco State University


Holocaust survivor Gloria Hollander Lyon is a courageous hero who boldly stared tragedy in the face and, with incredible determination, pushed forward despite immeasurable suffering. In her captivating memoir, Lyon tells of her pleasant childhood in a rural Czechoslovakian town, her dreadful experiences in seven concentration camps, her admirable rescue by the Swedish Red Cross, the devoted Swedish family who supported her through the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, and her immigration to the United States. Mommy, What’s that Number on Your Arm? is an astounding and important read.

From the start, Lyon’s writing sparkles with vivid descriptions; her childhood memories are sweet, curious, and are a true highlight of her memoir. With evocative detail, Lyon does not shy away from the graphic horrors of the concentration camps. Her eloquent writing produces a host of powerful feelings and images–a cacophony of terror. Lyon deserves much praise for portraying these reminiscences with thoughtful honesty.

Mommy, What’s that Number on Your Arm? continues to follow Lyon’s life many years after the Nazis’ rule. As unique as it is to receive a close look at the long recovery of a Holocaust survivor, the second half of Lyon’s memoir is less enthralling than the first. The story eventually picks back up during her touching reunion with her family in Lvov, but, once again, following this short reunion, the memoir slows as Lyon tells her story of becoming a witness of the Holocaust through speeches and documentaries. The first half of her memoir, however, is undeniably powerful. Lyon is a true inspiration; her memoir will resonate with anyone who rejoices in the promise of hope.


In this engrossing memoir, Gloria Hollander Lyon recounts her harrowing experiences during the Holocaust as a cautionary tale for future generations to remain ever vigilant against racism in a changing world.

Lyon, born in Czechoslovakia, enjoyed an idyllic childhood until 1938, when Hungary invaded. The eight-¬year-¬old had to adapt to a new language, school, and even Hungarian first name: Hajnal (nickname Hanci). After years of increasing anti-¬Semitism in German-¬aligned Hungary, the Nazi soldiers arrived in 1944 to round up the Jews. Hanci, then 14, survived seven concentration camps, including Auschwitz-¬Birkenau. In an ironic twist, while she eventually emigrated to America, her surviving family members returned to their homeland, only to be trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Lyon presents the book in a straightforward, chronological style with the kind of details that will leave readers aghast at man’s cruelty to man. At one camp, a prisoner suffering from dysentery rushed to the latrine against orders, was beaten and found the next day drowned in the latrine. The body remained there for three days as a warning. The camps took their emotional and physical toll on Lyon (who leventually adopted the American first name Gloria). In later years, she endured 20 surgeries for back and neck problems from fragile bones. Still, she never abandoned her Jewish faith and became an activist reminding people of what can happen even in a supposedly civilized, educated society.

Even those familiar with the Holocaust will find Lyon’s book a stand-¬out. She gives historical context, humanizes the story’s victims with family photos and pictures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and documents her chilling return to the camps and her childhood home 47 years later, even finding the culvert where she had hid naked and shivering from the Nazis for two days, after a brief escape.

By skillfully recounting her experiences, Lyon has created a touching tribute to her courage and a compelling call to action for the need to vanquish hate.


“At age fourteen, as the reality of the Holocaust engulfed my existence, I lost my name and identity and became merely a number — a number that was tattooed on my arm and has stayed with me for all of my life.”

Young Zora, whose Hebrew name is Hannah, grows up in a happy farming family in the Czechoslovakian town of Velky Berehi. Then in 1938, life changes ominously
when the Hungarians take over, allying themselves with Hitler’s Third Reich. Zora is forced to take the Hungarian name of Hajnal and becomes witness to the gradual dehumanization of the Jews. Living in fear, with strange edicts requiring yellow Jewish stars and disquieting rumors of the slaughter of whole Jewish
communities, Zora and her family are transported to the infamous Auschwitz, one of several “hellholes” she encounters. No longer a person but a number – A-6374 – she experiences a frightening reality under the control of sadistic Nazi guards, who submit her to slave labor, cruelty and violence amid the “putrid smell” of
burning flesh lingering in the air. Her family is split up and lost, but somehow she summons the will to survive. Zora’s life is saved several times in rare moments of humanity, and she escapes these horrors. Facing new obstacles after the war, she embarks on a journey to the United States and, taking a new name, becomes a public witness to the Holocaust.

As her son, Jonathan, recalls her mother’s words, “If you have ever been to Auschwitz, you can never completely leave it,” we too are reminded of this as we read Gloria’s memoir. The remembrance of “bloody Europe” is both a testament and a living history that enables her to process and heal psychological wounds while educating others. Her narrative is altogether important for the new generations encountering the history of the Holocaust for the first time. At once touching, vivid and remarkable, Gloria’s words and her journey will move you and change you, and by its end leave you haunted for years to come.


A Hungarian woman’s debut remembrance of her journey from Holocaust survivor to public witness.

Author Lyon’s early childhood was nearly idyllic; as one of six siblings in a Jewish family, she was raised in the rural Czechoslovakian town of Velky Berehi, a small, tightly knit community where Jews and gentiles lived in peaceful harmony. However, the 1938 Munich Agreement, signed when the author was 8 years old, ceded control of part of Czechoslovakia, including the author’s hometown, to Hungary—a grim turning point in the young girl’s life. Hungary was allied at the time with Nazi Germany, and anti-Semitism was common. The government assigned the author a new first name, Hajnal, and renamed her town, as well. After the Germans arrived as conquerors in 1944, they deprived her family of its livelihood and made all Jews wear identifying yellow stars. Lyon was eventually shipped to the Ghetto Beregszász before being sent to the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was imprisoned at seven different camps until she was rescued in 1945 by the Swedish Red Cross and sent to live with a loving host family in Sweden for two years. Then she reunited with some of her family members in the United States, where she met her husband, Karl Lyon, with whom she later had children. What little remained of her Hungarian kin was now behind the Iron Curtain, and it took relentless petitioning of the Soviet Union before she was granted permission to visit them again.

The author’s recollection is as emotionally wide-ranging as it is historically astute, and her account of forced alienation from her own culture and religion is engaging. The author became a prolific public lecturer on the catastrophe of the Holocaust, and her unflinching sense of moral purpose enlivens her entire memoir. Much of the story is heart-wrenching and thus difficult to read, but Lyon manages to leaven her work with wit and inspiration. There’s no shortage of first-person accounts of the Holocaust available today, but this one serves as an able reminder of the urgent necessity of returning to the past with eyes wide open.

A stirring meditation on survival and preserving one’s identity in the midst of cultural dislocation.