Friday, February 5, 2010

Review: Surviving Hitler

by Andrea Warren
published by Harper Trophy
copyright 2002
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.


  1. That sounds like a very poerful novel. My husband loves reading about WW11 will pass the details to him.

  2. This book sounds incredible. I love that you actually got to attend the seminar!

  3. I am going to dig this one out and read it again. When my son (now 22) was in 8th grade his class read this, his teacher loved, loved all things WWII and it fit right in with their history lessons at the time.

    How great that you attended the author's seminar.

  4. Did you have trouble being quiet during the seminar? I probably would have. The book sounds like a must read - I just wish we humans could learn from our past mistakes.

  5. This sounds like a great read, especially combined with the seminar! I often find that YA books are a great introduction and overview of something. You get some good information and then the basis for doing more research if you want to afterward.

  6. Molly,

    Thanks for mentioning this book. Oftentimes when the subject is one I need more of an education on I like to read about the subject in YA first and then adult books later.

    Glad u enjoyed this - tough subject

  7. Thanks for posting about this book -- I'm adding this to the list I keep for my young nephews.

  8. wow, that sounds like a wonderful book, one we all, not just young people, could learn from.

  9. hi, I like your blog.. I think you're a good writer too..
    and I would like to get this book..

    my blog : Refurbished laptops

  10. Wow ... sounds powerful and amazing. I'll have to check it out.

    And I love the idea of you "promising to sit quietly."

  11. Hi Molly. Thanks for your review! I'll correct one thing: I interviewed Jack every Friday for several hours over a period of four months, not four weeks. These sessions were incredibly intense, as you can imagine. We were digging into long-ago memories and it took a toll on both of us.

    Thanks again for coming to the writing seminar.

    Best wishes,
    Andrea (Warren)

  12. For all of you who have added this book to your TBR piles -- I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I look forward to reading your reviews.

    Julie - Kathy - Jenners --- while I may be rather verbose on my blog :) -- I tend to be quite reserved as a student in a classroom setting. I am very focused on what the teacher has to say, and take copious notes. She really had a wealth of information to impart to those of us who were interested.

    Andrea - thank you so very much for stopping by my blog and correcting my mistakes. I simply cannot imagine the emotional toll in took on both of you to discuss these horrific events in such a condensed period of time. Your dedication to your writing projects is inspiring! I very much look forward to reading Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London when it becomes available.


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