“Fritz, if you want to go on living, you have to forget your father.”
This true story of a family split apart. Their family lived in Austria when Nazi Germany took it over and their world turned dark very quickly: friends turned cruel, parents lost jobs, and the kids were ineligible to attend school.
“The only nice things were very small- things that were everyday in normal life, like a loaf of bread, or a pair of socks without holes in them, or being smiled at.” This Holocaust account is retold through alternating viewpoints- one by Kurt, who at eight years old became a refugee in American among strangers who didn’t speak his language while Fritz, the older brother, went to Buchenwald concentration camp and later Auschwitz.
Kurt’s chapters tell of his acclimation to America and his frustrations with America’s refugee policies, which denied his sister’s application. The chapter’s focusing on Fritz are a witness to the tragedies of the camp as rumors spread of mass executions makes its way through the prisoners who were completely cut off from the rest of the world as Fritz desperately tries to stay connected to his father. The two voices move the book along and also remind young readers that while bad things were happening, somewhere in the world kids still went fishing.
The book might be a tad intimidating in size at first glance for upper elementary students, but about 70 pages is back matter which includes a timeline, author’s note, glossary, and bibliography. That leaves the “story” to be around a for more easily digestible 300 pages. The text does an excellent job in attempting to explain in simple terms policies and practices of countries that seem unexplainable. “The Jews were the Nazis’ scapegoat. The Nazis felt that once the Jews were permanently gone, everything would be good again.” Even the disbelief of “ordinary” German soldiers to the nature of the concentration camps is portrayed though side characters: “Mr. Hitler would never lock up anyone who hasn’t done anything wrong.“
History buffs and non-history buffs will likely find this WWII book well worth a read. (Spoiler alert: for those needing assurance, both brothers survive.) Recommended for tween, teen, and adult readers alike.