"I just knew I would live, Papa," Walter replied. "I wouldn't let the Nazis turn me into something less than human -- because I am somebody." (from Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust, page 124)
Eight Holocaust survivors were interviewed by Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun for Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust, a non-fiction book that aims to show middle-grade readers the resilience of the human spirit, how the will to live is strong enough to survive the many horrors inflicted upon Jews and others by the Nazis during World War II.
The book opens with Luncia Gamzer's story (she's the little girl on the cover), a heartbreaking tale of an 8-year-old girl whose father smuggles her out of the ghetto in Lvov, Poland, so she can live with a family friend. The woman who takes her in puts her life and the lives of her husband and daughters on the line, as anyone caught hiding a Jew would be severely punished, if not killed. Luncia can no longer go outside or stand in front of a window for fear she'll be seen. All she can do is sit quietly in a secluded section of the living room, and when someone comes knocking on the door, she must hide under the bed and hope the family dog doesn't give her away. After a few close calls, the family decides Luncia must go, but the woman doesn't know where to send her. In the meantime, Luncia must hide in a trunk, curled up in a ball and breathing through holes that allow a little air to get inside.
Other stories featured in the book are just as sad and terrifying: a boy whose family tries to escape Germany on the S.S. St. Louis, but along with hundreds of other Jews, they are denied entry into Cuba and the United States and are taken in by European countries that eventually would be occupied by the Nazis; a boy who escapes a train headed for Auschwitz and becomes a partisan; a boy who fears for his life after losing his bread on a death march from Auschwitz back into Germany; and a young girl whose family hides in a cramped attic for two year during the war. (I wondered why the last girl's story sounded so familiar and learned she is the cousin of Rita Lurie; I reviewed the memoir Lurie wrote with her daughter, Bending Toward the Sun, last year.)
Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust is a heavy book, one that stays with you for days after finishing it. My heart broke for these children, for their lost families, their lost innocence. It's probably best to read one story here and there, rather than read them all at once like I did. I applaud Zullo and Bovsun for presenting the facts to young readers (ages 9-12) without sugar-coating them. They don't provide a graphic account of events, but they don't hesitate to say, for instance, that a Jew was shot and killed by the Nazis for something as senseless as not being able to quickly produce the pass that will allow him out of the ghetto to work.
Despite the honest, heart-wrenching account of the horrors these children witnessed in concentration camps, in hiding, or on the run with the resistance, Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust is hopeful. They are survivors, after all, and Zullo and Bovsun emphasize that they had the strength and smarts necessary to stay alive in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. They sum it up perfectly in the Author's Note:
It's hard to imagine that anyone, especially children, could bear so much suffering.Written in story form, rather than an interview format, the book will greatly affect both children and adults alike. At the end of each story, the authors let readers know how the children fared after the war and what they were doing with their lives at the time the book was published in 2004.
Yet this book is also a celebration of the human spirit -- the will to overcome unspeakable horrors, the will to triumph over evil, the will to live. In fact, the people in these stories all shared a common trait -- they believed in their hearts that they would live even when so many others around them were dying. Not only did these children, survive, they also grew up, got married, and enjoyed happy, fulfilling lives.
The Girl hasn't had a chance to read this book yet, but you can bet that I passed the it onto her. At 9 years old, she's about the same age as the children featured in the book. But while she whines about having to do her homework before having fun and wonders what books, toys, etc., she should request for her birthday, the children in Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust no longer had toys or even proper food and clothes. I think we all could learn something from these stories and the strength and courage of these children.
Disclosure: I purchased my copy of Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust.
© 2010, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce content without permission.