Now, this inspiring story has been is retold in a picture book for older readers by Anne Renaud. Fania had survived Auschwitz, and traveled to Canada after the war, married and had a daughter named Sorale, nicknamed Sandy. As a young child, Sandy understood that her mother had many secrets, among them were why she had no relatives - no mother, father, siblings, cousins. aunts or uncles, and why there was a tattooed number on her arm.
Then, one day, when Sandy was 10, she came across another of her mother's secrets. It was a tiny book shaped heart, with a purple cloth cover and the letter F embroidered in orange thread. Opening it up, she saw lots of words in different languages, but could only read a few names. Her mother finally told her daughter her secrets when Sandy asked her about the heart.
Fania begins with her imprisonment in Auschwitz, after being torn from her home and family because Hitler hated certain people, but especially Jews. In Auschwitz, she was no longer a human being but became a number - 74207. She describes the deplorable conditions she and everyone else in Hitler's concentration camps were forced to live under, how she and the other girls in her barrack worked as slave laborers in a munitions factory making weapons for the German army, and how they tried to sabotage the what they made whenever they could, and then, how they were forced to walk a mile to and from the their job in all kinds of weather. All the while, Fania searched for her family among the other prisoners, but never saw them.
Although they lived in constant fear and extreme hunger, Fania and her friends would recall recipes and food they loved. One day, Fania mentioned she was going to turn 20 soon. Imagine her surprise when she was secretly handed a small handmade heart-shaped card from her friends on her birthday. The heart was a cherished bit of hope and resilience for Fania: "It is an act of defiance. A symbol of strength. An expression of hope and love. My friends wanted to prove that despite all that was inflicted upon us, we could still treat each other with humanity. Their words saved me."
The heart is also the only tangible thing Fania had left from her past.
Fania's Heart is a very moving story. It is historical fiction based on the true experiences of Fania Fanier, née Landau. This is such a well written, poignant story of resistance and survival under such unimaginable circumstances. It begins from the point of view of her daughter Sandy, but seamlessly switches to Fania's voice, always shown in quotes. To her credit, Renaud has managed to describe the horrors of living in a concentration camp under the Nazis including enough reality without getting overly graphic, given he age of her target audience.
There is an interesting Author's Note at the end of the book that briefly describes how Hitler and the Nazis believed in the racial inferiority of certain groups of people, including Jews. It goes on to describe how Fania's heart was made and hidden from the Nazis. The heart was eventually donated to the Montreal Holocaust Museum, where it is on display.
I thought that Rudnicki's realistic watecolor illustrations captured so much truth about the harsh conditions in Auschwitz, but also the intensity of the friendships the girls developed with each other. The post-Auschwitz illustrations have a bit more clarity to them than the ones that involve Fania and her friends during the Holocaust, giving them a real sense of being a focused part of Fania's memory.
While this is an excellent telling of Fania's important story, I do wish there had been more back matter, such as a more detailed biography of Fania's life before and after the war, and a list of suggestions for further reading. For this reason, it book felt incomplete to me.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
If you are wondering how such an elaborate heart could be made under such stringent conditions, you might want listen to the creator of the heart, Zlatka Pitluk (née Snajderhauz). It's in German or Yiddish, but there are subtitles: