Tag Archives: Holocaust

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 

Beyond Belief (Heroes of the Holocaust) – Dee White

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beyond-belief

Scholastic

March 2020

Publisher: Scholastic/Omnibus Books

ISBN: 9781760662516

RRP $17.99

It may be the holidays and I don’t need to be up at the crack of dawn to get to school but even so for me to read a book cover to cover in one night when I go to bed is pretty much indicative of a great read.

Dee White I thank you for introducing me firstly to a history of which I had no idea and secondly for transforming that into a narrative that is at once fraught with tension and filled with hope.

Based on true events of the Muslims in Paris who rescued Jewish children at the risk of their own safety, this is the story of eleven year old Ruben and his perilous journey to evade the evils perpetrated by the Nazi occupiers of France. Left by his parents at the Grand Mosque in Paris so that he will be safe while they go in search of Ruben’s older sister and her husband, Ruben has been promised that a saviour known as ‘The Fox’ will come for him before long. In the meantime, he must become as ‘Muslim’ as is possible for a Jewish boy in order to protect his identity – as well as the mosque inhabitants.

However when the mosque and its faithful protectors are targeted by the Nazi regime a flight into danger ensues and Ruben plus other at-risk friends Hana and her little brother Momo are in the hands of the network of resistance fighters/rescuers.

Their escape is dangerous for all concerned but there is light at the end of the tunnel and when they finally reach a safe haven there is an astonishing revelation in store for young Ruben.

The pace and intensity of this narrative leaves the reader almost breathless as we feel ourselves to be right in the danger with the children. Such histories of the Holocaust – and the story of both survivors and those who so selflessly helped them – are testaments to the enduring and inherent goodness and courage of so many. How truly wonderful that Dee White has shed light on this chapter in this narrative to inform readers – and incidentally proven the true character of Islam to a wider public. These are the books that will empower our young people to grow in acceptance, compassion and empathy.

I cannot recommend this highly enough particularly for readers from around 12 years upwards and as a ‘read-around-your-topic’ for students of the Holocaust and World War II.

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Click here to read more about Dee’s journey to bring this story to life.

The Missing: the True Story of my Family in World War II – Michael Rosen

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1577053974835

Walker Books

March 2020

ISBN: 9781406386752
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $22.99
New Zealand RRP: $24.99

First of all I have to say that I have the greatest admiration for Laureate Michael Rosen, both as a writer, a champion of children’s reading and school libraries and as a human. His writing over the years has always resonated with readers both young and old whether prose or poetry.

This is an account both intensely personal and powerful of Rosen’s determination to uncover the history of his missing relatives – who were ‘there before the war ….and gone after’. With very little to go on Rosen made it his mission over years, countries and continents and what scant records were available to piece together the fate of his missing uncles and aunts during the terrible purge of the Jews by the Nazis.

From the outset the tone of this volume is conversational in order to make it accessible and clear to his young readers and while never shying away from facts of genocide, death camps and similar topics he does not go into depth or details which may make it too confronting for the reader.

Written in both prose and poetry (in the main, excerpts from longer works) which was written specifically addressing his family as his thoughts turned to them, it is also interspersed with such rare primary documents and photos as were uncovered during his long research. The book concludes with extensive book lists of both fiction and non-fiction about the Holocaust and refugees (including our own Once by Morris Gleitzman and The Arrival by Shaun Tan)  as well as a useful list of museums and libraries for further investigation and an index. I would add to the list of graphics both the new White Bird by R. J. Palacio as well as Peter in Peril: Courage and Hope in World War II (2016) – Helen Bate.

In my experience, there is a large sector of child readers who will devour books around the Holocaust and not, in my opinion, because of any ghoulishness but rather a deep desire to understand the terrible tragedy, which in turn further develops their empathy and their acute awareness of injustice, and in the cases of some books the demonstration of resilience and the enduring hope displayed by so many.

I commend Rosen on his sharing of his own family’s sad story and his continuing endeavours to provide for children meaningful and thought-provoking readings. Books such as this one in particular will go a long way to raising our readers as compassionate and caring adults in an increasingly intolerant world.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

White Bird: a Wonder Story – R. J. Palacio

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9780241397244

Penguin Australia

October 2019

ISBN: 9780241397244

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $39.99

Millions of readers have fallen in love with Wonder and its subsequent books and will most likely think of Julian as Auggie’s tormentor but in this first foray into graphic novels Palacio presents a completely different side to the erstwhile bully. Those who have also read Auggie & Me will have had a brief introduction to Julian’s French grandmother but it is of no consequence if readers have not as this narrative is completely self-contained.

Julian has a humanities project to do and he decides that his much-loved grandmother will be the interviewee for his assignment. He knows a little of her story but now she tells it fully via their Facetime conversation.

Sara relates her own personal history as a young Jewish girl evading capture by the Nazis and her fugitive existence being cared for indomitable French friends and also reveals a great deal about life for others during this most terrible and frightening of times. It is powerful and moving and tragic but ultimately heart-warming and an affirmation of the goodness of many people – those who are willing to risk all in order to do the right thing especially.  The courage and kindness of those who helped young Sara to survive is echoed in the accounts of many Holocaust survivors and Palacio herself has personal connections to these through her husband’s family.

 

While entirely fictional it does of course draw on much factual information which is thoroughly explained at the end of the book along with other entries, links and references for readers to explore at leisure.

The survivors of the Holocaust are adamant, and rightly so, that the immensity of the wholesale slaughter of not only Jews but the other minorities targeted by the Nazi regime should never be forgotten – or repeated.

Sharing stories such as this along with non-fiction accounts with our young people is vital and in my experience the outrage of the injustice and inhumanity of these develops a solid and strong sense of empathy and understanding in students. It goes without saying that in our own parlous times this is something which we must strive to engender in all.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. I am not, as some know, a great aficionado of graphic novels but found this a compelling (one session) read and one that will help children to understand the enormity of this heinous episode in human history in a manner that is calm and honest.

Listen to a grab here.

The Dollmaker of Krakow – R. M. Romero

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Penguin Random House

Sep  2017 | 336 Pages | Middle Grade (8-12)

ISBN: 9781406375633
ISBN-10: 1406375632
RRP $24.99

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 There is war.

There is pain.

But there is magic and there is hope.

I’ve read many books both fictional and non-fiction concerning World War II and particularly the horror of the Holocaust but never have I read one that blends historical fiction with fairytale and folklore. Think a mixture of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Hans Christian Andersen and ancient Polish folktales for this unusual and intriguing book.

Basically two narratives run together, sometimes parallel and sometimes interwoven. Karolina is a little wooden seamstress who lives in The Land of Dolls. Her homeland is beautiful and filled with joy, sweetness and all good things. Until that is, the Rats from across the sea invade (perfect allegory!). The filthy contemptuous rats bring every bit of their cruel, mean-spirited and arrogant ways to bear on the inhabitants of The Land of Dolls, terrorising all from the highest to lowest with equal dispassion. Eventually forced to escape her little cottage, Karolina finds refuge in the woods and also a wooden soldier called Fritz, formerly of the Royal Guard. The two make their way to find the gentle warm wind called Dogoda which reputedly can transport toys to the human world.

Karolina fetches up in the shop of the Dollmaker of Krakow, a kindly but troubled man who unknowingly possesses a special magical gift which has brought Karolina to life in the human world, as she was in her own land.  There she and the Dollmaker find solace in each other’s company and after some time also find true friendship with Jozef, a widowed Jewish symphony violinist and his little girl, Rena. When the Nazi rats invade Poland just as they did The Land of Dolls, the cruelty begins and death, destruction and despair envelop beautiful Krakow. By some mystical fate, a young and arrogant SS officer who begins a remorseless campaign of persecution against the four, who now consider themselves family, has a frightening connection with Karolina and the Dollmaker.

The poignancy of this tale tinged with its mystic reality is every bit as heartbreaking as any piece of ‘straight’ historical fiction. With beautiful illustrations reflecting the folkloric nature of the piece and similar borders which define the Land of Dolls narrative this is a work of art in more ways than one.

The fact that it took me only two sittings to consume this at the end of a long and tiring term is a testament to its power to enthral.  This is a powerful debut novel which resonates with the themes of hope, compassion and the strength of the human spirit and love.

 

I would highly recommend it for readers from around 12 years upwards.

I am Sasha – Anita Selzer

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sasha

Penguin Random House

April 2018

9790143785743

RRP $17.99

Some triumphant recounts of survival against all odds have come out of the horror of the Holocaust. I am always humbled in admiration for those who endured such deprivation, suffering, cruelty and pain with courage and dignity and who rose from the basest of treatment to resume living – raising families, contributing to communities, sharing their accounts, ensuring those lost are not forgotten.

To be a single mother at any time is not easy. To be so and a Polish Jew at the outbreak of World War II must have been terrifying. For Sasha and his mother Larissa the war which creeps up almost imperceptibly is, as it was for so many other Polish Jews, a litany of abuse, hate, starvation and constant fear. Fortunately, these two by divine fate and a few truly good people, both Jew and Gentile, somehow managed to keep one step ahead of the feared aktion raids by Nazis and discovery of their hiding places and identity.

Their most singular salvation however was Larissa’s inspired decision to trade her most valuable piece of jewelry for Arayan papers for a mother and daughter – whereupon her son Sasha became Sala, a teenage girl. Hidden in plain sight thus, Sasha spent three years and half of his teenage years impersonating a girl (obviously because of the Nazis’ practice of telling boys to take down their trousers checking for circumcision).

When the war ends this indomitable mother and son are able to relocate to spend some time in safety and adjusting to a new normality in some of the many European displaced person camps. Finally Sasha is able to resume his own teenage masculine self and joyously meets his future wife Mila and her family in the camp.  Both families immigrate to Australia where Sasha’s adult daughter now writes non-fiction including this account of her grandmother and father based on Larissa’s own hand-written memoirs.

Truly compelling reading with an intensity that will capture readers both male and female, this memoir also includes photographs.

This is a not-to-be-missed book and definitely an addition to your upper primary and secondary shelves.

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.

The Boy on the Wooden Box – Leon Leyson

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  • Simon & Schuster Children’s UK |
  • 256 pages |
  • ISBN 9781471119682 |
  • May 2014 |
  • Grades 4 – 9

List Price

AU$ 9.99

– See more here

Subtitled ‘How the Impossible became Possible…on Schindler’s List’ which says it all, this is an amazing read. Most of us are no doubt familiar with the history of Oskar Schindler and his extraordinary efforts in saving his Jewish workers from certain extermination in wartime Poland, largely due to the publication of Tom Kenneally’s Schindler’s Ark (inspired by the retelling of the heroic rescue by Poldek Pfefferberg) and the subsequent Spielberg movie, Schindler’s List.

Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was a mere ten years old when his world imploded following the Nazi invasion of Poland and his family’s forced relocation to the Krakow ghetto. The overcrowded urban concentration camp was tyrannised by a vile despotic commandant, Amon Goeth, whose complete indifference to suffering and amoral and inhuman treatment of the Polish Jews, resolved Schindler to take action. Outwardly a staunch Nazi supporter, a womanizer, a black marketer and a capitalist, Schindler set about to protect some 1 200 Jews becoming a rather unlikely hero by continually ‘flying under the radar’ of the SS, using his own funds to bribe officials and subvert the Nazi war effort through his factory’s production of imperfect ammunitions.

Leyson’s memoir is the only one from a Schindler’s child and as one of the very youngest saved by that man, is a story of immense despair told without bitterness, and at the same time, a story of limitless hope – when one man’s refusal to stand by and do nothing resulted in the saving of many lives.

Seemingly a quiet and modest man, Leyson had not told his story until the book and subsequent film brought Schindler’s name to the wider public. After his first telling of his personal history he was asked many times to speak to groups and organisations which he did willingly to share his recollections and to honour both Schindler and the many victims of the Holocaust.

After providing his testimony verbally for many years, we are fortunate indeed to be able to read it as well and while there are certainly literary aspects to this book, for a large part Leyson’s voice as he recounts the often chilling evidence lends gravity to the telling.

Leyson died almost two years ago but in this book he has left a real legacy to young readers (as well as older ones). For your readers who have already seized on other Holocaust histories, whether factual or fictional, this will be an admirable addition to your library shelves.

Highly recommended for readers aged around 9-15.

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