Tag Archives: Budapest

Heroes of the Secret Underground – Susanne Gervay

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Harper Collins Australia

April 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460758335
  • ISBN 10: 1460758331
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

What an absolute privilege to review Susanne’s new historical fiction inspired by, and a tribute to her own family’s history in Budapest during the last years of World War II.

12 year old Louie lives with her two younger brothers, Bert and Teddy, in a beautiful old-style hotel with her Hungarian grandparents, Zoltan and Verushka. The children’s parents are world-renown musicians who are often away but the three children love living in the Hotel Majestic, an oasis of magnolias and tranquility in a busy city. There are always interesting guests, the busyness of helping their Pa and Grandma with the daily tasks and the fascinating building itself to explore continually.

When Louie glimpses a strange girl in the street and finds a stunning rose gold locket the secrets of the past begin to slowly reveal themselves. There are certain clues the children find in the hotel itself but the locket is the talisman that transports them to a dark and dreadful time in their grandparents’ lives – Budapest 1944 and the cruel tyranny of the Nazis.

The mysterious girl, Naomi, is their guide into the dangerous world of the secret Jewish underground and the siblings become involved in a fraught mission to help rescue dozens of children as well as restoring the wondrous locket to its rightful owner. They are amazed to realise that they are watching their own grandparents, mere children themselves, heroically leading in this deadly encounter. As this hidden history unfolds, Louie understands so much more about her gracious grandparents and all they have overcome to reach the peaceful present.

There are moments of real terror and anguish but these are beautifully balanced with the hope and courage demonstrated by all the young people involved. For those of us who are fortunate enough to never have experienced such unspeakable horror there is inspiration that even in the darkest times there are those willing to stand up and resist.

A year ago at the World Holocaust Forum Prince Charles said “The lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day. Seventy-five years after the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims.”

We must continue to empower our young people to vigorously oppose the ongoing spread of hatred and bigotry that is still so prevalent. In my opinion, encouraging our readers to examine and reflect upon the past is one powerful way to do this.

This has my highest recommendation for young readers from upper primary onwards. Pre-orders available from Booktopia or Amazon

Shalom aleichem 

Peter in Peril: Courage and Hope in World War Two – Helen Bate

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peterinperil

Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781910959572
Imprint: OTTER-BARRY BOOKS
September 1, 2016
Australian RRP: $27.99

There is always a need for memoirs or biographical texts in a simpler format for younger students. There is also always a great demand, in my experience, for true stories of bravery especially during times of conflict. The enduring popularity of true stories around the Holocaust is evident. Not because the young readers enjoy the horrible or gruesome history but because they are continually inspired by the resilience of the human spirit. When these stories are told from a child’s POV they become even more powerful.

This graphic novel is based on the recollections of Peter, who was six at the time when Budapest fell to the Nazi regime. For Jewish families such as Peter’s this marked the beginning of a long, difficult and dangerous period of history.

The dangers and the stark reality of living in fear and hiding are minimised but there is no doubt that children will still grasp the enormity of the situation in which Peter and his family found themselves.  Throughout these dark times there were still moments for Peter to still just be a child and these make for real contrast to the grimness of his environment.

Thankfully Peter and his family survived and continued to make Hungary their home after the war, when there was still as much struggle, poverty and lack of food.

The last few pages of the book relate some background to Peter’s story along with a summary of the family’s situation. A photo of adult Peter, now living in Austria, with his children and grandchildren provides a fitting ending to this story of one little boy’s war.

Highly recommended for readers of around 10 upwards.