“I belong to Vienna: A Jewish family’s story of exile and return” Anna Goldenberg

Rated 3 stars *** Translated from German by Alta L. Price. ARC. ebook. New Vessel Press. To be published June 9, 2020. Includes Period photographs and “Archival sources and references.”

I belong to ViennaIn 2012 Anna Goldenberg moved to New York to attend graduate school and, while there, felt out of place among American Jews for being an Austrian Jew.  As time passed she missed her Viennese family so much she became interested in her family history. Through relatives who had immigrated to New York, Anna pieced together stories about her great-grandparents and grandparents. As she dove into old family letters and did research, she uncovered information about what it was like for them during the Holocaust, and what they had endured during the Nazi occupation of Austria. As Anna uncovers their stories, and their love for Austria, she uncovers her own mixed feelings about her homeland.

I understand and admire Anna’s need to piece together her family’s past so she could honor them through her future. However I felt the many transitions from memories to the present and back again gave the book a disjointed feeling.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Survivors of the Holocaust: True stories of six extraordinary children” Edited by Kath Shackleton

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published October 1, 2019. Sourcebooks. 96 p. (Includes a “Foreword,” “What happened next?” “Glossary,” “Timeline,” “Index” and “Websites.”)

Survivors of the HolocaustRanging in age from preschool to 15, six children’s lives were forever changed when the Nazis came to power in Germany and began to invade Europe. In graphic novel format readers learn about the isolation these children felt as they hid, lived with foster families or suffered in concentration camps during this terrible time in history. Their deprivations, sadness, experiences, and the loss of their families during the Holocaust are made real not only through their words, but also through vivid drawings. Over and over readers are reminded that it was only because they were Jewish that their lives were turned upside down by the Nazis.

After each of the children recount their memories, a small note tells readers a little about what they did after the war. A section at the end of the book titled “What happened next?” gives more detailed information about Heinz, Trude, Ruth, Martin, Suzanne, and Arek – the six very brave children who are now adults. The Foreword tells readers that they agreed to tell their stories because they want readers to remember what happens when people are told they’re “different.” They want us to remember no one should be bystanders to injustice, and that we should all stand for what is right. That, in my opinion, applies to the events that are currently happening in these United States of America.

These six stories are very moving, and Zane Whittingham’s colorful illustrations help bring their memories to life for both middle and high school readers.

Highly recommended for ages 12 and older.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“White bird: A Wonder story” by R. J. Palacio

White BirdRated 5 stars ***** ARC. 2019. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 220 p. (Includes “Afterword,” “Author’s Note,” “Glossary,” “Suggested reading list,” “Organizations and Resources,” and a “Bibliography.”)

Julian interviews his grandmother for a school project about her childhood growing up in France during World War II. She tells him what it was like going from being a happy, pampered child to being marked as a Jew when Nazis showed up in her small town when she was about 14 years old. She still didn’t realize her life could really change until soldiers came to her school to remove all the Jewish children.

Though her life was in danger, instead of fleeing with the others she hid in the building. She was saved by Julien, an extremely kind classmate who had been bullied at school for years because of polio’s crippling effect on him. The story of their friendship, how she survived this terrible period in human history, and how it applies to today’s world is the story of “White bird.”

Told in graphic novel format, and from the point of view of a Jewish child hiding from the Nazi’s, Palacio’s deeply moving story is an excellent introduction to the Holocaust for middle schoolers. It should be placed in every middle and high school library, as well as every public library.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Those who save us” by Jenna Blum

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2004. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Those who save usIt is 1939 in the little German town of Weimar. Though Aryans are forbidden by law to associate with Jews, 19-year-old Anna has fallen in love with Doktor Max. When he’s on the run from the Gestapo, she hides him in her home and they have an affair. They are planning to escape to Switzerland, but her father finds him and hands him over to the authorities. They sent him to Buchenwald. By now Anna is four months pregnant, so leaves home and flees to Mathilde, a local Resistance baker. She assists Mathilde in baking but in also sneaking food to the Buchenwald prisoners and smuggling messages from them to the Allies. The years pass while she raises her daughter Trudy, hoping to get news of Max.

It is 1996 in Minneapolis, where Trudy had grown up with her adopted father and mother. As a professor of German history, she has never understood why Anna has spent years not talking about her life during the War, nor about her connection to an SS officer who Trudy believes to be her father because she’d found an old photograph of the three of them. Trudy decides to conduct interviews with local Germans who’d survived the war, hoping to find answers to her questions. In time she finds out her mother’s story is one of desperation, secrets, betrayals and lies, as well as guilt and fear. However everything she did was for her daughter’s survival. This is Anna’s story.

Most World War II stories center on the Jewish people and how they were treated in the Holocaust, but I believe it’s also important to reveal, in detail, the roles played by ordinary German citizens in this terrible chapter of their history. There were evil Germans who were true Nazis, but there were also good German citizens who tried to help the Jewish people. Though there weren’t enough of them to make a difference, some did make a difference. Blum’s story is about someone who made a difference.

Highly recommended for Adults.


“The girl in the blue coat” Monica Hesse

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. To be published April 5, 2016. Little Brown and Company.

TheGirlInTheBlueCoatDespite assurances to the contrary, Hitler invaded the Netherlands in 1941. Two years have passed since the Dutch accepted the invasion in order to avoid bombings of major cities. During that time, methodically watching the capture and deportation of their Jewish citizens by the Nazis has become a way of life.

Hanneke Baker trades in black market goods with the rich citizens of Amsterdam. Having been dealt a rough blow at the start of the occupation she taught herself to hide her emotions, deal only in cash and have “survival first” as her motto. One of her customers, Mrs. Janssen, had been hiding Mirjam, a young Jewish girl, for a month when Mirjam suddenly disappeared. With nowhere turn Mrs. Janssen offered Hanneke money to locate Mirjam. The only clue she had was Mirjam had been wearing a blue coat and had been reading a Resistance magazine. Intrigued that Mirjam seemed to have disappeared without a trace, Hanneke decided to accept the money.

While seeking clues to Mirjam’s whereabouts Hanneke learned about the work of the Resistance, and began to finally put real faces and feelings onto the thousands of Jews being deported. Despite the circumstances Hanneke holds out hope, but finds herself racing against time hoping to find Mirjam before it’s too late.

“The Girl in the Blue Coat” will keeps readers turning pages until its final, unexpected ending.

I graciously received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Prisoner B-3087” Alan Gratz, Ruth Gruener, and Jack Gruener

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Scholastic Press. 260 pp. (Includes “Afterword”).

PrisonerB-3087In 1939 Krakow Poland, Yanek Gruener lived a good life with his parents in their small apartment on Krakusa Street. He was just 10 years old, and loved entertaining his aunts, uncles and cousins with made up stories from watching American movies. When the German army invaded Poland that year, his life changed forever.

Change began with small things such as being ostracized at school but, gradually, the changes got worse and worse. Soon, Yanek and his family were hiding out in a pigeon coop on the roof of their building to avoid night raids and beatings by the Nazis. They managed to stay together for 3 years, before Yanek lost his entire family and was sent to the first of 10 concentration camps.

In one of the camps Yanek was tattooed with the number B-3087 and, in chronological order, Gratz takes readers to all the places where Yanek was sent when he was just 13 years old. These camps included Plaszow (1942-1943), a barracks at the Wieliczka Salt Mine (1943-1944), Trzebina (1944), Birkenau (1944-1945) and Auschwitz (1945).

With the Allies approaching the Nazis forced their prisoners on two different death marches, which ultimately led Yanek to spend time at Sachsenhausen (1945), Bergen-Belsen (1945), Buchenwald (1945), Gross-Rosen (1945), and Dachau (1945). Along with his hopes and fears Yanek tells of the beatings, starvations and other horrors he endured in these camps and on the forced marches, while the goal of survival kept him alive.

“Prisoner B-3087” is based on Jack Gruener’s life, and is an important look into the dark past of World War II. We need to remember what happened during the Holocaust while never forgetting those who died, and those who survived.

Recommended for readers aged 12 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“Forgive me, Leonard Peacock” Matthew Quick

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Little, Brown & Company (Hachette Book Group). 273 pp.

ForgiveMeLeonardPeacockLeonard Peacock is very angry because today is his 18th birthday and no one remembered, including his own absentee mother who moved to New York and left him alone in New Jersey. To celebrate he cuts off all his hair, and wraps presents to deliver to four people who made a difference in his life. He plans to end the day by killing his former best friend with his grandfather’s old World War II gun then killing himself.

Through Leonard’s first person accounts, letters written to himself in the future, and copious footnotes, readers see someone who is highly intelligent, misunderstood, hurt and confused. His next-door neighbor Walt, and World War II Holocaust teacher Herr Silverman are the only ones with whom he can be himself. With Walt he can watch Humphrey Bogart movies and disappear into a fantasy life, while Herr Silverman challenges him creatively, making him feel like a real person who matters in life.

Gradually readers come to see why Leonard is so desperate, and gain understanding into the person he was forced to become by those in his life who hurt him. The pain he suffers, and the solutions he chooses to ease that pain, are explored in detail and will give readers food for thought. Hopefully Leonard’s story will enable teens suffering through this kind of pain to realize there is hope, and that suicide isn’t the answer to their problems.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).