Monday, January 4, 2021

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Until the Nazis invaded Poland in 1938, Chaya Lindner had lived a relatively good life in Krakow with her parents, her younger brother, Yitzchak, and much younger sister Sarah. By 1940, the Nazis had placed so many restrictions on Jews living in Poland until finally they were all ordered to leave their homes and move into the Podgorze Ghetto, where they were forced to live four families to an apartment. But for Chaya, it meant being on the next Nazi train out of Poland. Instead, Chaya set off on a long journey, leaving Krakow to stay with her grandmother.  

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.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic Press

1 comment:

  1. I read it a while ago & yes, it is good. I like that there are books for teens showing them that in the past, they had power to do the right thing, too. Thanks, Alex, I enjoyed re-living the book in your review.