Kurt’s older brother, Albert, is a member of the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of young people who are dedicated to resisting Hitler’s edicts. Hitler has outlawed jazz music, so the Edelweiss Pirates play it every chance they get. Kurt, who plays the trumpet, asks if he can join the group; Albert refuses but gives him a Louis Armstrong record, which Kurt and his Jewish classmate, Fritz, listen to so much, they can eventually play by ear. At school, Kurt witnesses Fritz’s growing degradations. Finally, at the band concert, Kurt is instructed to play a piece by Wagner, Hitler’s favorite composer. Instead, he breaks out with a riff on Armstrong’s “Saint Louis Blues.” After the concert, he receives a note from Albert with his new code name: “Blues.” Kurt is finally a member of the Edelweiss Pirates.
Like Elvgren’s The Whispering Town (2014), this Jewish story is told from the perspective of non-Jews. The author uses music to demonstrate the increasing loss of freedom suffered during the Holocaust. Her book also weaves a tightly crafted narrative, using first-person point of view and present tense, based on the powerful picture-book formula of threes: Kurt asks to join the Pirates three times, and is shown learning three different subjects at school.
The color palette and style of Stamatiadi’s illustrations effectively evoke the 1930s. Back matter explains the real Edelweiss Pirates, a brave corps of some 5,000 teenagers who defied Nazi Germany and the Hitler Youth.
Barbara Krasner is an award-winning poet and historian who focuses her writing on the Jewish experience in America and during the Holocaust. She teaches in the history department of The College of New Jersey and serves as Director, Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Education Center.