Erich Levi is a ten-year-old boy who lives in the small town of Ellwangen. After the Nazis gain power, the lives of the few Jews in the town gradually change for the worse. Some of Erich’s teachers give him low grades and humiliate him because he’s Jewish, the boys in his class bully him, and his friend Karl shuns him entirely.
A few townspeople try to ignore or resist the Nazi regime, but by the end of the novel, we see how even good people are forced to acquiesce. As the Levi family members lose their pride, honor, and livelihood, the reader begins to understand the terrible price paid by victims and bullies alike. Finally, Erich’s family is forced to leave Germany forever.
The author takes her time to fully delineate both Jewish and non-Jewish characters. We feel their pain and confusion, sadness and fear. However, a few sparks of humanity remain, for example, when the headmaster of the school advises everyone to “have the courage to be wise.”
The narrative moves along briskly, marred occasionally by too many adjectives, awkward turns of phrase, and clichéd images. Unfortunately, several errors regarding Jewish customs are also evident.
A useful discussion guide, a note on the German school system, author’s note, and endnotes all add veracity to a compelling read. See also David Chotjewitz’s Daniel Half-Human and the Good Nazi for its portrayal of friendship, loyalty and betrayal. Ages 10 – 12.