Why can’t we find Gerda? It seemed a reasonable question and one with an easy answer to a class of American eight graders. It was 2011 and they were all Internet savvy. What could be so difficult? Yet this group of Illinois middle-school students discovered that the task of uniting the two young girls who had been forced to flee their home country of Germany and had been sent to live with unknown relatives in different cities of the United States in 1938 would take a classroom of investigators and would present a fascinating challenge and an emotional journey.
Gerda Katz and Edith Westerfeld became fast friends on their solo journey from Germany to the United States. As twelve-year-olds, their families chose to save them from the growing war in Germany, even if it meant each of the girls making the journey to a new country alone. The parents had no idea what fate awaited them in the USA but they knew that remaining in Germany was not an option for their children. Edith and Gerda made that journey and became ‘true sisters’ only to lose touch with each other for over 50 years.
The efforts of the eighth grade class who heard their story doing a school program and made it a class project to reunite them, made their joyous reunion apossible. The investigative experience taught the class immeasurable lessons about friendship, grief, survival and the love of parents. It also ingrained in them how history repeats itself and provided a deep message that they must act in order to prevent similar fates for children around the world today.
This is a valuable nonfiction story that will bring WWII, the Holocaust and the perils of immigration to life.
Highly recommended for ages 10- 17.