This gripping and unusual novel is set in Vienna on the eve of World War II. It is a beautifully written and compelling story of Jewish life in Austria turned on its head after the German invasion. Two nine-year old boys who are classmates and best friends — Emil is Jewish and Karl is not— fight to escape the Germans and to survive the war together. Their respective parents are either dead or have been taken away in a violent fashion. In their attempt to survive, they see a world where Jews are regarded as inferior people. They are initially helped by their neighbors, who are both good Austrians and good people. They are then put in touch with and protected by members of the Resistance. Written in Yiddish in 1939 in New York, it is a unique book in that the story it is telling was written as the events were unfolding. The translator believes that it is one of the first books, in any language, for young readers about a period that would eventually be called the Holocaust. The Anschluss in 1938 was the beginning of the persecution and deportation of Jews in Austria. This is a particularly haunting story to read now, as we read with the benefit of hindsight. For ages 10 and up.
Heidi Estrin is librarian for the Feldman Children’s Library at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL. She is a past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee for the Association of Jewish Libraries.