It’s 1944, and Jutka Weltner, a fourteenyear- old Hungarian Jew, spends her time with her friends, going to the movies and daydreaming about having a boyfriend. But with the invasion of the German army into Hungary and the onset of World War II, life is fragile and the future seems uncertain for Jutka and her family. Her father and brother Dezso are “volunteered” for the forced labor regiment and are sent to an unknown destination, leaving her mother in charge to care for Jutka and her grandmother. With limited food coupons, an enforced curfew, and the fear of ridicule and abuse from the Arrow Cross soldiers who enjoy making examples of the Jews, Jutka lives in constant trepidation. As new laws come into existence, Jutka’s life takes a downward spiral; her privileges as an honor student are denied, she is forced to wear a “six-pointed canary yellow star”, and her family is moved to a tiny apartment in the ghetto. The family is then transported to Auschwitz where Jutka is separated from her elderly grandmother and weakened mother; she endures unimaginable brutality from hard labor to endless beatings, but dreams of her family in Canada give Jutka the emotional strength to survive her nightmare imprisonment. Told in a strong first person narrative, this heart-wrenching novel takes the reader through a difficult journey as Jutka’s sufferings are intimately and often graphically documented. However, what differs in this Holocaust title is the focus on life after the war, and how Jutka strives to find a place in the world after she has lost so much. Similar to I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson, which also focuses on the Holocaust experience in Hungary, this book realistically depicts the bitterness of war as told through the eyes of a young girl coming of age. Ages 12 and up.
Debra Gold has been a children’s librarian for over 20 years in the Cuyahoga County Public Library System. An active member of the ALA, she has served on many committees including the Caldecott, Newbery and Batchelder committees.