Monday, January 18, 2021
Saturday, January 9, 2021
It's 1938 and Charles Novacek, 11, his parents, and sister are being forced to leave their home in Hrachovo, then part of western Czechoslovakia and recently occupied by Nazi soldiers, and relocate to Náměšť nad Oslavou, Charles's father's hometown in eastern Czechoslovakia.* Charles desperately wants to take his precious art supplies with him, but his father is adamant about leaving them behind. There simply is no room for them in the cattle car that carrying their belongings. After all, they are not the only family being evacuated.
Monday, January 4, 2021
After three days of wandering, Chaya passed a place with a familiar name. Shimshon and Gusta Draenger, who had been the leaders of her Jewish scout group, Akiva, live on a farm nearby. Chaya is invited to stay on the farm, helping out with the work, and learning more about what was happening to the Jews in Poland until one day, a man name Dolek brings her bad news from the Podgorze Ghetto - 8-year-old had been sent to Belzec, a death camp, and Yitzchak, 12, has disappeared.
Chaya's Akiva group on the farm decide it's time to take decisive action to resist the Nazis however they can. And because Chaya can pass for Polish with her long blond, light complexion and her ability to speak fluent Polish, she immediately volunteers to be a courier for the Jewish resistance. With false identity papers, Chaya becomes Helena Nowak, a Polish Catholic who can now pass into and out of the ghettos, smuggling food and medical supplies to the people in desperate need there, goods obtained through raids of German supplies that Chaya also participates in.
But when Chaya is paired with the inexperienced Esther Karolinski, she is less than happy. Esther brings her own baggage to the resistance - her father is a hated Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto who has had to make lists of names for deportation. At first, Chaya feels that Esther is a liability to her own resistance work, but as time goes by and they work together, going from ghetto to ghetto, Esther feels more like a partner than a problem. And she proves herself to be especially helpful once she and Chaya find themselves inside the Warsaw Ghetto as the Jewish resistance begins to prepare for their uprising there.
Resistance is an engaging novel, action-packed but not gratuitously so. Motivated by the death of her sister and disappearance of her brother, the book's purpose is to highlight the courageous life of teenage Chaya, and the dangers she faced on a daily basis, knowing that capture would mean torture and death for her by the Nazis. But it is also a testament to faith in God - something the Nazis have successfully caused her to question: "What good is faith if you're dead?" (pg 139) So Chaya fight is on two fronts - physical and spiritual.
Chaya is a well-drawn character, with all the mixed emotions - anger, compassion, and ideology - you would expect from a teen living under Nazi threat. No one else is given her depth, although Esther comes close. And, like others who have read this book, I would have liked to know more about Esther.
Though Resistance is a Holocaust story, it takes place away from the Nazi death camps, and is set in several of the ghettos the Nazis forced Jews to live in. Nielsen has not shied away from the horrors of those ghettos, of people dying of starvation, Nazi cruelty, and the horrendous living conditions. Nor does she ignore the Jews who volunteered to be part of a ghettos Judenrat, as Esther's father was, and who become almost a cruel as the Nazis thinking it will save them and their families. This is a very realistic novel, but Chaya's story is also a compelling one.
And although Chaya's story is fiction, there is much that is based in reality in this book. Nielsen breaks it all down in her Afterword, which I highly recommend reading.
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Thursday, December 17, 2020
That makes leaving home a little better, but Rudi still doesn't want to leave his parents. Besides, he doesn't speak any English and then he learns that Lotte won't be living with him, that she'll be with another nearby family.
The couple Rudi lives with, Auntie Irene and Uncle Don Evans, are very kind and patient, but Rudi is reticent to speak English. They do seem to know that he can't eat pork, so that isn't a problem though Rudi does miss Friday night Shabbos with his parents and Lotte. What he really worries about is school. What if the kids there don't like Jewish German boys and are mean, picking on him the way the Hitler Youth always did. But Rudi immediately makes a friend, a genial boy named Sidney Scudder. And through Sidney, Rudi makes even more friends.
Things are really great when Hanno comes out of quarantine. Rudi takes him everywhere during summer vacation and all the kids love him. But as summer goes by, England going to war with Germany becomes more and more of a possibility. In September 1939 war is declared, and the possibility of losing Hanno looms again. It seems the everyone is have their pets put down because of the war and rationing. When Rudi hears Uncle Don and Auntie Irene talking about having Hanno put down, Rudi knows he must act to save his beloved dog's life. But what can he do? Perhaps Sidney has an idea.
Saving Hanno is a story about an aspect of World War II that most people don't know or just don't want to think about. But the act of putting pets down was quite widespread at the beginning of the war in Britain. Pets weren't allowed in shelters, and rationing meant little left over for feeding a pet. This is the dilemma that Rudi faced with Hanno. After all he had given up - his home, his parents, to some extent even his sister - how could he give up his beloved Hanno, this time with no hope of getting him back?
Besides depicting the fate of one beloved pet, Saving Hanno also illustrates two different situations that Jewish kids who were sent to England on the short-lived Kindertransport (1938-1940). Rudi is very welcomed by the childless Don and Irene Evans, who show consideration for his dietary needs, as well as just treating with kindness and understanding. Lotte, on the other hand, ends up in a family that treats her like a free servant, keeping her out of school and giving her only one day off a week. One can only imagine what other situations the Kindertransport children found themselves in.
Throughout his stay in London, Rudi never loses hope that his parents will find a way to leave Germany and get to England. To keep that hope alive, he keeps a notebook of things they might find helpful once they arrive. I thought it was a sweet touch, but also lets readers know some of the day-to-day things Rudi faced as a refugee.
After I finished reading Saving Hanno, I discovered that Miriam Halahmy had written an early book called The Emergency Zoo, a longer novel that is about the saving animals about to be put down because of the war. Now, I can't wait to read it. Saving Hanno is an ideal book for kids in the early middle school grades, while The Emergency Zoo looks to be a book for kids in later middle school.
I think Saving Hanno is a story that kids will definitely like.