Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport, Emma Carlson Berne is a book that is written for middle school students about the Jews in Nazi Germany. The book contains stories of seven children who escaped Nazi Germany on Kindertransports funded by humanitarian groups in the years 1938 through 1940. Each story has pictures of the children and their parents. It’s heartbreaking to think of parents who had to make the difficult decision to send their children alone on transports with some family pictures, an important item, or whatever would fit into a small leather suitcase.
The physical book is designed with the look and feel of a family picture album. There are seven chapters that focus on individual children who were part of the 10,000 children rescued from Nazi controlled areas and relocated to the United Kingdom prior to the beginning of World War II. Their story is told in the third person but from the child’s perspective. In the book, the reader reads emotions of the children recalling memories they have whether it be the last time they saw their parent’s face or the bullying they experienced based because they were Jewish. Each story gives background to the time leading up to the Holocaust. This shows the cruelty of the Nazi’s and what they were capable of accomplishing.
The first chapter begins with a poem “The Leather Suitcase” written by Tom Berman who was saved as a 5 year old child by a Kindertransport. Background is given about the poem as it describes what it must have been like for such a young boy to be separated from his parents for a long trip to an unfamiliar country with a different language, not knowing if he would ever see them again. This chapter captures the reader’s interest immediately.
The next chapter, “From Kristallnacht to Kindertransport,” gives more historical details about the increasing persecution of the Jews and their limited options for survival. Then the book returns to the stories of individual children, ending with a chapter that briefly recounts what happened to each child after the Kindertransport. It might be specifics of their time living with another family, further emigration, or an ultimate career, depending on their circumstances and the source documents available. There is also general statistical information about the 10,000 children of the Kindertransport.
We learn what happened to the children after the war and the memories they carried and what they did in their lives to honor their parents and remember the Holocaust. The book has an impressive bibliography and questions at the end suitable for classroom discussion. I was very moved by this book as an adult, and I think it would be a very powerful book for children and young adults.
There are study resources at the end of the book. The “Timeline” integrates important historical dates of the war with major events related to the Kindertransport and the seven children whose rescues are detailed in the book. The “Glossary,” of course, defines unfamiliar terms such as “haftarah” and “pogrom” which are used in the book. Next is a page which explains The Kindertransport Association (KTA), whose president was a consultant for the book. The KTA is comprised of the rescued Kinders, as they call themselves, and their descendants. “Read More” lists three more books on the topic for young readers. There is a page of discussion questions to evoke higher level thinking and several pages devoted to bibliography, source notes, and an index.
Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport is a valuable teaching resource, drawing from original sources. The length of the chapters is appropriate for this age level as well as for typical time periods in the school day. It could be used for independent reading or group study, but because of the difficult nature of the subject matter and the age of the intended reader, I definitely suggest adult support. The author handles the ugly reality of Nazi Germany with restraint without hiding the brutal truths of beatings, interments, and death. Being drawn into their stories will be troubling for some youngsters, especially those for whom this is their introduction to Holocaust studies.
I highly recommend Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport as an integrative teaching tool combining reading with social studies, especially history and geography. It abounds with possibilities for discussions to stretch young thinkers to make make new connections and offers opportunities for deep enrichment of vocabulary. Even as an adult, I found the book well written, interesting, and a source of new learning.
I received this book from Capstone and Capstone press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.