Michael Gruenbaum was eight years old when the Nazis invaded his hometown, Prague, in Czechoslovakia in March 1939. In writing this memoir, Gruenbaum — ably assisted by writer Todd Hasak-Lowy — recalls the events that led to his family’s deportation to Terezin (Theresienstadt). Here he is separated from his mother and sister and joins the boys of Room 7 in the “Nesharim.”
Gruenbaum’s account incorporates the innocence and even naivety of a young boy trying to grapple with the events around him: the death of his father, the loss of civil rights, the round-up to the ghetto, the separation from his mother, the meager provisions, and the famous incidents of Terezin, the Brundibar children’s opera and the Red Cross visit. He finds fellowship in the Nesharim, a band of boys who play soccer and watch out for each other.
The backmatter informs the reader that Gruenbaum did not remember all this exactly. Gaps in his memory were filled in with information from his contemporaries. The title’s relevance is questionable. Still, the book is more like Morris Gleitzman’s Once than Terezin-juvenile inmate Helga Weissova’s diary, Helga’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Account of Life in a Concentration Camp. Seeing the events unfold through a young boy’s eyes without the mediation of the adult perspective presents a fresh take on the Holocaust narrative and should be added to the juvenile Holocaust literature bookshelf.
Recommended for ages 10 – 14.
Barbara Krasner is the author of many books across genres, including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and children’s literature. Her recent titles include 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939, Civilian Casualties in War and Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems. Her book Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade was a recipient of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award. She holds a Ph.D. in Holocaust and genocide studies from Gratz College, teaches in the Holocaust and genocide studies program at the College of New Jersey, and serves as director of the Mercer County Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Center. She also holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.