Emil and Karl

Yankev Glat­shteyn; Jef­frey Shan­dler, trans.
  • Review
By – October 24, 2011
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.

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