Wednesday, September 19, 2012

T4 by Anne Clare LaZotte

Paula Becker is 13, deaf and living in a small village in German when the Nazis pass Aktion 4 allowing them to do the unthinkable - "euthanize"disabled persons like Paula in their quest to become a master race and to eliminate the cost of caring for them.

T4 is a short novel in free verse told throughout in Paula's voice:

Hear the voice of the poet!
I see the past, future, and present.
I am deaf, but I have heard 
The beauty of song
And I wish to share it with 
Young readers...
 ...In T4, the facts
About history are true, and
My characters tell the story. 

At first, Paula writes, the Nazis target only people living in institutions and she is left alone.  But in March 1940, the family's  priest comes to the house in the middle of a snow storm to tell them that it is now necessary to get Paula out of the house and into hiding.

The priest takes her to a woman named Stephanie Holderlin, where it is believed that Paula can remain safely hidden.  There, she is able to learn  the official sign language of the deaf.  But early one morning, the Gestapo knock on the door.   They had been informed that a disabled person was living there.  They search the house, but do not find Paula.  Stephanie finally manages to get rid of them, but Paula must be moved to another safe place immediately.

This time, she is taken to a homeless shelter run by a Lutheran priest.  There, she meets Homeless Kurt.  Gradually, he and Paula become friends and after a while, they decide to travel to Berlin together.  On the way, they discover seven people living in the woods, Jews who are hiding from the Nazis.  Realizing they cannot really make it to Berlin without being caught, they return to the shelter.

In 1941, the killings under T4 'offically' ended but it still wasn't safe for people like Paula and Kurt until the end of the war.  Unofficially, Paula writes, the killings continued.

When the war was finally over, the people responsible for T4 were tried at the Nuremberg Trials, with the exception of Dr. Philipp Bouhler, who was the head of the program and who committed suicide.

In its simplicity, LaZotte's story poem manages to convey some of the horror that Nazi Germany held for some people, but also some of the kindness that could still be found there among the people, reminding us again that not everyone was a Nazi and many didn't support their policies, like T4.

The author, Ann Clare LaZotte can well understand what it would be like to be in Paula's shoes, since she herself is also deaf.  She clearly feels very strongly about T4 and it shows throughout in her poetry. And she also knows more than a little something about German poetry: Stephanie Holderlin was named for Frederich Holderlin, a German lyric poet and two of the Jewish children that Paula and Homeless Kurt meet int he woods  are named for Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan, two of the greatest poets of the Holocaust and whose works I would definitely recommend reading some of when you have finished reading T4.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

More information on Hitler's T4 Program can be found here.


  1. Horrifying subject. I read this one a few months ago. The book sounded so intriguing and I wanted to love it, but the writing just didn't draw me in. The poem format didn't work for me, since the writing didn't feel poetic. Just my reaction, 'though.

    1. I have to admit, I am only now developing a real appreciation for novels written in free verse but I did find myself drawn into this one. Of course, not every book will be everyone's cup of tea, and you are right, this is a horrifying subject.

  2. I don't know if I'll be able to read this book, intriguing as it may sound.

    1. Actually, it isn't hard difficult as it sounds like it should be. The subject is handled with a great deal of delicacy so it doesn't jar the reader. And it is intriguing.

  3. This looks so interesting! I haven't run across books addressing the 'euthanizations' before, and I love novels in verse.

    1. Yes, it is interesting and well done, all things considered. I hope you will give it a try.

  4. My sister’s godmother, Dame Rebecca West or Mrs. Andrews as we knew her, attended the Nuremberg Trials. (My parents worked for Mr. Andrews & Rebecca West on their farm in Buckinghamshire). I have a letter she sent to my mum at the time. It was shocking then, and it’s still shocking now.
    I’m not sure I would like this as it’s told in verse, but it was interesting to read about it.

    1. Wow, Barbara, that is very interesting. Imagine such a godmother, but you must have grown up on their farm, too. How interesting that letter must be, and as you say, shocking. Thank you for sharing this bit of personal history. I had to read the transcripts of the Nuremburg Trials in graduate school and it wasn't easy.
      The T4 program still stuns me when I think about it. And the poetry in this novel isn't the sing song kind, so it makes reading easier.

  5. This was the first free verse novel I'd ever read, and I read it with my daughter a few years ago for the WWII challenge. I think it's a great way to introduce children to some of the Nazi atrocities, as it doesn't go overboard in describing them.

  6. Yes, Anna, I felt the same way about the tastful way the whole issue was handled in this novel. I don't really think the blog is the right venue for shocking, graphic details of some of the things that happened in WWII, so I found this a perfect way to introduce the T4 program, as you did too with your daughter.