by Jennifer Roy
This fictionalized account is based on the childhood of the author\’s aunt. She- Syvia- lived with her family in a ghetto in Poland from 1939-1945. Syvia was only four and a half years old when it began. She was one of very few survivors- only twelve children made it out of that ghetto alive at the end of the war. She was silent about her experiences for forty years, until sharing her story in a series of interviews with her neice.
The story is told in free verse. I don\’t often read narrative told via poetry. In this case I think keeping the details brief makes a story about the Holocaust easier for young readers to handle (this is a j-fiction book). But it also left me feeling unconnected to the characters- it\’s more about what happened to them, then about them as individuals. Syvia\’s story tells of living in privation, locked behind a fence in the ghetto. Leaving all their belongings behind, living in crowded conditions with few comforts. No school or playtime. Facing illness and starvation. Watching people getting shipped away in the cattle cars, told they were being sent to places where workers were needed, but after a while they began to doubt that. Syvia lost her friends and a cousin, one simply disappeared when she went outside. Her family worried for her safety so she remained in the small, barren apartment and could not even approach windows, for fear of attracting the soldiers\’ attention. Her older sister escaped the camps by lying about her age so she could work in a factory. When children were deliberately targeted to be sent on the trains, Syvia\’s father and other men in the ghetto made a daring move to hide the remaining children in a cellar. There they stayed for months in the dark, barely daring to make a sound and weak from hunger and cold. Liberation came just in time.
The prevailing feeling that comes through is so- dismal. Having read a lot about the Holocaust before (especially in my high school years) I knew what to expect in many parts of the story, but it still brought me close to tears reading about the suffering, through the eyes of a child. And of the awful risks people took to save others. In some instances, a detail that saved many people from certain death was incredibly fortuitous.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5 242 pages, 2006