Ford St Publishing
As always, I am grateful to have the opportunity to review a book that provides young people with a perspective of one the darkest times in human history, particularly in order to endeavour that such atrocities will never be repeated. In this novel’s dedication Catherine Bauer writes: This story is dedicated to the survivors, far and wide, who shared their stories with or committed their memories to print – and to those who didn’t make it. Their stories and those of other genocides must never be forgotten – especially in times like this. We can underline, I think ‘especially in times like this’. I have previously commented in this space, that despite the upswell of kindness and generosity of spirit shown in many quarters since the start of the pandemic, the general global trend towards hatred and violence is not just disturbing, but frightening. We must hold onto the belief that essentially most humans have the capacity for compassion and empathy. Bauer’s novel follows the wartime experience of Lena, a young Jewish girl who lives in Amsterdam in a comfortable and loving home, until the invasion of the Nazis.
Much to her dismay her parents decide to leave Amsterdam and place her with a trusted Dutch friend, music teacher, Ilse Graf. Her parents know that Lena will be safer in hiding with Ilse than on the run with them, until they can find safe haven. Lena’s unhappiness multiplies as the days turn to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years.
Yet she comes to realise how fortunate she is to be safe when the madness all around swallows so many of her Jewish friends. Her isolation in Ilse’s house is relieved with her discovery of a secret tunnel which leads to the house next door, which is, in fact, the home of one of her pre-war friends. The bond between these two – Dutch boy/Jewish girl – will be forged in fire and tempest but will be one that lasts forever. Lena’s story is dramatic and engrossing.
Young readers will feel for her in all her many moods and gain yet another insight into the shameful blot on 20th century history. The triumph of the human spirit is one that resonates throughout Holocaust histories, both factual and based-in-fact and is always one that inspires students and leads them to a position of true empathy.
I highly recommend this to you for your collection, but would also strongly encourage you to bring it to the attention of your HASS/History faculty to consider for a ‘read around your topic’ title. It is suitable for readers from Upper Primary to Mid Secondary. Extensive teaching notes are available.