Friday, November 14, 2014
Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Craig Orback
It is many years after the Holocaust and Atler begins his personal story of survival by telling the reader that he was an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.
Alter was only 13 when the Nazis invaded Poland, including his small village of Chrzanów. Up until the invasion on September 1, 1939, the Wiener family, Papa, Mama, and brother Schmuel and Hirsch had lived a comfortable happy life. His mother was a generous woman and every Shabbath she made sure there was enough food to share with the homeless and less fortunate.
But soon after the Nazis arrived, Jews no longer had any rights - they could not go to school, the park, to the synagogue, and a curfew was imposed making all Jews prisoners in their own homes. Before long, the Nazis came for Alter's father, killing him. A year later, they came for his brother Schmuel.
When Alter was 15, the Nazis came for him in the middle of the night. He never saw any of his family again. Atler was sent to a prison labor camp, where he and the other prisoners were always cold and hungry, and forced to work long hard hours.
While working in a German factory, a German worker caught his attention and pointed to a box. Later, Alter went to see what she was pointing at. Underneath a box was a bread and cheese sandwich. This went on for 30 day and Atler believes that this woman not only helped to save his life, but taught him the valuable lesson that "there are the kind and the cruel in every group of people."
After the Russian Army liberated the camp Alter was in, he tried to find the woman who had shown him some kindness at a time when kindness towards Jews was forbidden. He never did discover who she was, but he has never forgotten her.
Trudy Ludwig has taken the adult version of Alter Wiener's story and simplified it for younger readers, yet it never sounds condescending or patronizing. The book is written from Alter's point of view, and as he recounts his experiences, Ludwig is able to include a lot of historical information in his narrative about the Nazi occupation of Poland and about the horror that was the Holocaust without overwhelming or frightening the reader.
Gifts from the Enemy was illustrated by Craig Orback. His realistic oil paintings are light in times of freedom, happiness or hope and appropriately dark during the days of Alter's imprisonment by the Nazis.
With its message of hope at the end, Gifts from the Enemy is an excellent choice to begin the difficult talking about the Holocaust with children, especially as a read aloud. And to help do that, Ludwig has included information about hate, the Holocaust, a vocabulary for what might be unfamiliar words for many kids, as well as discussion questions and activities for young readers.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL