It is one of the most grim events in recent world history. Families are still affected today by lives lost and relatives gone missing.
It is also an event with amazing stories. True stories. Stories that exemplify faith, determination, and strength.
In 2006, author Jennifer Roy endeavored to pen her Aunt Sylvia’s childhood experiences of living in a Polish ghetto during World War II. The “ghetto” was a crowded Jewish internment camp. A neighborhood with barbed wire around it as a way to contain the people Hitler saw as the “problem.” His “final solution” would come later, of course, in the form of concentration camps.
Miraculously, Sylvia (an American modernization of Syvia,) spent the entire war in a ghetto and was one of only 12 surviving children out of thousands. The others became sad, anonymous statistics.
Jennifer Roy is very truthful about her challenges in relating the story. How should she tell it? A narrative? In third person? After trying other methods unsuccessfully, she decides to tell it in Sylvia’s voice, a combination of an old woman’s memories and the simple, but profound, observations of a child.
What emerges are short chapters and efficient language that sound like young Syvia commenting on her changing world. She tries to make sense of things that are senseless.
Why a yellow star? Yellow is supposed to be a happy color.
Bright colors don’t exist in the ghetto, except for the yellow stars and puddles of red blood we carefully step around. “More shootings,” Papa says quietly. His face is gray.
What happened to my friend? She was here yesterday…
Hava is missing. She went for a short walk on the street and never came back. Gone, missing, vanished.
From the ages of 5 to 10, the ghetto, and all that went with it, was Syvia’s world.
It is a child’s honest interpretation of starvation, cold, fear, death, and the unknown. She is acutely aware of her surroundings and the sacrifices her parents make to ease her suffering and keep her safe. “Safe” equals “alive.”
This book would be an excellent teaching tool when discussing the Holocaust, a subject that is quickly disappearing from students’ knowledge of history. Parents should read it with their children. Teachers should read it to their pupils. It is clear in its statement of the times without being overtly frightening. The childhood version of Syvia is relatable and sincere, with that strong sense of fairness that exists in all young people.
Highly, highly recommended.