by Andrea Warren
published by Harper Trophy
rating: 5 out of 5
Oh - was I in literary heaven last Thursday!
My daughter came home a couple of weeks ago and said that a local author, Andrea Warren, was coming to her school to conduct a writing seminar for AP Lang students. I simply could NOT let this opportunity pass me by. I contacted my daughter's teacher and asked if I might be able to attend if I promised to sit quietly in the back. The request was granted, and I am so grateful!
Andrea Warren lives in the same county as I do - in a town a few miles away. She has written several YA non-fiction books, most notably Under Siege, Pioneer Girl, Orphan Train Rider, and Surviving Hitler. My daughter had read Surviving Hitler a few years ago, and it continues to impact her life.
When I was told that I could attend the seminar, I immediately grabbed my daughter's book and began reading. Since the book is geared toward the YA audience, I could have easily read it in a couple of hours. However, the subject was such that I could really only digest a few chapters a time. The story is biographical - that is, Ms. Warren spent 4 months - several hours every Friday - interviewing Jack Mendelbaum in order to accurately tell his story (edited to reflect author's comments below). As I read the last chapter I realized, with surprise, that the story is told in third person. This was a surprise because as I was reading this book I felt such intimacy; the feeling that I would expect from a first person narrative. As I tried to analyze this, I realized that the author used so many direct quotes, that it gave the appearance of first person point of view. And yet.....I am somewhat grateful for the periodic distance that the third person narration allowed. I am not sure that I could have stomached such a personal encounter with concentration camps that the first person POV would have afforded.
Periodically throughout the eloquent prose is interspersed with dramatic photographs of the time period. The photos are haunting and with each one I wondered what was the story behind that particular picture. As many of you know, I have a great love of dogs - and believe that they are truly man's best friend. The photo that impacted me the most was that of a muzzled German Shepherd held on a leash by a gestapo guard. The hatred in that dog's eyes was truly evident. I know that once given the command, the dog would not hesitate to attack and kill. Oh, what did that dog have to endure to learn such hatred? Oh, what inhumanity did the German soldiers inflict on those in the concentration camps? What are we human beings truly capable of doing, if left to our own evil nature? It is quite the sobering thought.
As far as I am concerned, Surviving Hitler is the perfect book for any elementary school student to read. It provides enough information for students to understand the inhumanity and injustice of the holocaust - while at the same time it does not delve into unnecessary grotesque details. This book will find a sympathetic audience with nearly every audience: young and old; male and female; rich and poor. If you have not had the opportunity to read this book, I would strongly urge you to add it to the TBR pile of required World War II reading material.
I had hoped to add a bit of information regarding the writer's seminar - but I think that may deserve its own post. The impact of this novel should not be diluted in any way.