From the Jewish library: ‘Slave, My True Story’

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO — One of the most dramatic stories of the Hebrew Bible is told in the Book of Exodus;  the story of the enslavement of a people and their flight to freedom.  Though this epic event is recounted every year during the Passover Seder, the possibility of such an enslavement still seems like something that happened long ago and far away –  certainly not in modern day America.

However, the reality of slavery comes much closer to home when we realize that it existed for hundreds of  years here – in America – and, historically speaking, ended not very long ago.  But, today,  in western civilization the overall tendency is to see it as an event in the past.  Occasionally, one hears or reads of slavery in other cultures, in countries far, far away.

But how far away is it really?  In 2013 a member of a Saudi family was charged with a felony for human trafficking and enslavement in Orange County, California.  Slavery continues to exist in our time and close to home.  Of course, one huge difference is that slavery here is a crime.

In Slave, My True Story, by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis, Public Affairs (Perseus Books Group), 2003, the author relates how her village in Sudan was attacked by Arab raiders who set the straw roofed huts on fire, murdered the adults and abducted some of the boys and all of the girls.  Though both the Arab raiders and the black African victims were Muslims, nevertheless the kidnapped children were sold into slavery.

Nazer spent the next ten years tormented, beaten and worked almost to death.  In those ten years she never had a day – or an hour – when she was not made to work.  She was treated as a pariah; eating all her meals alone and living on scraps of food left on the plates of the family she served.  Though she was still a child, she was allowed no social activities, no education and no outside contact.  The family would not even use her name – substituting instead a generic term for “slave.”

She had lost everything: family, heritage, childhood, education, freedom,  hope and even her name.  But within her there did remain just enough sense of self worth that when the Arab family moved to England, she took a  chance and ran away for life and liberty,  Trusting against heavy odds that what looked to her like another black African from her country – that he would help her.   She was lucky – he did.  As her story became known, other people stepped forward to help – many who did not know her at all  such as a Jewish family living in Switzerland.

Though overjoyed at attaining her hard won freedom, she knew that another girl captured during a bloody raid in a remote village would take her place.

This is a compelling and important book.


Orysiek is a freelance writer who specializes in arts and literature.  She may be contacted via  [email protected].  Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)



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