Life during World War II Europe

A Place to Hide

True Stories of Holocaust Rescues
Book cover: 'A Place to Hide: True Stories of Holocaust Rescues'
Author(s): 
Jayne Pettit
Copyright: 
1993
Publisher: 
Scholastic
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
114 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This book contains true stories of remarkable people (mostly Christians, including many Catholics) who saved the lives of Jews from the Nazis in World War II. According to this book, despite six million Jews killed by the Nazis, it is estimated that two million Jewish children were saved by rescuers such as the sampling presented in these stories. It is estimated that the number of rescuers (those who harbored Jews in their homes, transported them to safety, etc.) is anywhere from fifty-thousand to five hundred thousand.

The stories here include:

  • Miep Santrouschitz, who hid Anne Frank and her family in a tiny apartment above a business in Holland.
  • Oskar Schindler (subject of the recent movie Schindler's List) who spent his fortune bribing the Nazis in order to save over one thousand Jews from the death camps.
  • The story of Denmark, under its remarkable king Christian X, and its resistance against the Nazis. It's difficult to sum up all the remarkable pieces of this story in a few words, but the Danes ferried over 8,000 Jews to safety in Sweden (under the noses of enemy warships) over the coure of three months.
  • Andre and Magda Trocme and the city of Le Chambon, France, who provided a place of refuge for many Jews.
  • Padre Niccacci of Assisi, Italy, who rescued many Jews, even hiding them in the cloistered convents.

The book is thoughtfully done - accurately and fairly portraying Christian beliefs (and really showing Christianity at it's best - standing up in the face of evil) and delicately handling topics that would be sensitive for children. The author's intent is that "this account of the rescuers and their 'conspiracy of goodness' will serve as a tribute to all of those remarkable people who, in Abraham Foxman's words, 'seemed to be ordinary people living typical lives, but each was blesed with a touch of greatness.'" It is also beautiful to read that the Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers (who are largely responsible for the content of the book) have turned around and tried to give aid, where needed later in life, to those who risked so much to accomplish these heroic rescues.

Review Date: 
1-12-01
Reviewed by: 

Bright Candles

A Novel of the Danish Resistance
Author(s): 
Nathaniel Benchly
Copyright: 
1974
Publisher: 
Harper and Row
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Bright Candles is a fictional book about a 16 year old Danish resistance worker in World War II. This book shows the trauma of living in occupied Denmark through the eyes of a teenaged boy. As you read this, you will find out about the courage and bravery of the resistance, and how the Danes fought to help keep their country free. My mom and I both read this book and really liked it (so it has a teenager and an adult 'seal of approval'). The only part I didn't like was the fact that there is some mild swearing in it. Apart from that, Bright Candles is an excellent story that most teens 13 and up should like.

Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

Enemy Brothers

A Story of World War II
Book cover: 'Enemy Brothers: A Story of World War II'
Author(s): 
Constance Savery
Copyright: 
1943
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
287 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

After being very impressed with Constance Savery's insightful writing style and unique plot line in The Reb and the Redcoats, I had rather high expectations for Enemy Brothers. I wasn't disappointed in the least. This story is set in the early years of World War II (before the United States joined the Allied Forces) and tells of a young British man (Dym) whose toddler-aged brother was kidnapped from their large family ten years earlier. Dym loses both his parents within a short time of the kidnapping, but promises his mother before she dies to continue to search for little Tony. He spends many years in Germany and Switzerland looking for the boy, studying the books that his brother might be brought up on, but has to return to England when war breaks out. As an officer in the British Air Force, Dym is introduced to a young lad (Max) from Germany who has been captured and brought to England because of his pro-Nazi escapades in Norway. Known to be a real trouble-maker, his captors have a difficult time finding a place for him to live. Dym, suspecting that this is his long-lost brother (who was raised in the Nazi ideology) offers to take him home to the family estate the White Priory (fans of The Reb and the Redcoats, will recognize the same house from a different era). Although evidence mounts againts him, Max insists that he is not Tony and demands to be sent back to Germany. He lives up to his reputation for trouble by attempting numerous escapes, playing harmful pranks and even trying to spy for his home country right under their noses. The plot is thoughtful, engaging and not at all "predictable".

The story is a classic tale of the conflict between good and evil, love and hate - particularly on an intellectual level (the plane in which so many of today's moral conflicts lie). Much of Max's indoctrination is of an intellectual nature and I appreciate the fact that the good side is portrayed as fighting on God's side, despite errors of judgment in the past. The story is filled with interesting details of the time period. As I read the story, I found myself stopping frequently to comment to my husband about this or that aspect of the way things were during World War II, that I had never heard of elsewhere.

The writing quality and the beautiful way the author describes certain subtleties (such as how Max slowly discovers how different life in England is from life in Germany and how much of his beliefs about the English were simply German propaganda) are just wonderful. The thoughtfulness of the scenes in portraying some of these details makes the reading very enjoyable for adults as well as children. In some cases, as a family read-aloud, these scenes may require a little explanation for the younger children. A few tidbits made me and my husband laugh out loud which prompted the children to beg for an explanation! Overall, we have found that our children really love these opportunities to stop and talk about the story a bit and these tangents can be one of the real blessings of reading books as a family.

Although the story touches upon some intense and difficult concepts, like the Reb and the Redcoats, it is presented in such a manner as to be appropriate for a wide age range and could be used as a family read-aloud. The conflicts and relationships between the main characters of the story provide a beautiful opportunity to thoughtfully consider how our actions and example can affect the moral decisions of others. Highly recommended.

Additional notes: 

This book was donated for review by Bethlehem Books

Review Date: 
8-15-01
Reviewed by: 

Enemy Brothers Audio Drama

Book cover: 'Enemy Brothers Audio Drama'
Author(s): 
Constance Savery
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

Kidnapped as a baby, Tony, now age 12, was raised as a German. In fact, as he grew up with an entirely different identity as "Max", he never had any reason to believe that he was anything but German. Suddenly, through a strange twist of fate, he is returned to his rightful home in England and his true identity, but on the "wrong" side of the war.

Under any circumstances the transition would be traumatic, but now, with the outbreak of World War II, he is thrown into total disarray. Refusing to believe that he is English, Tony makes several attempts to escape from his new home. Then unexpectedly, he is given the chance to return "home" to his "mother" and to Germany, to be "Max" once again. Will he leave England, a country he was taught to hate in the Hitler youth, and his true family, whose values are so different? The consistent, loving patience of his siblings in the midst of his atrocious behavior is a beautiful and essential part of the story that dramatically shows Gospel-like attitudes to be the right answer.

Enemy Brothers exemplifies the eternal struggle within us. It is a story of the battle between good over evil, love versus hatred, kindness and goodness against anger and mistrust, sacrifice and the bearing of another's faults instead of revenge, and ultimately hope in the goodness of human heart. Will love triumph in the end?

In addition to the great story of conflict and suspense, this radio drama offers interesting sound effects and bits of historical recordings; all creating the feel that you are there. The well-done script smoothly interweaves narrator, music, sound effects and superb voices. This is a first rate production!

Additional notes: 

2 CDs, 90 minutes

Review Date: 
5-23-05
Reviewed by: 

Escape from Warsaw

Author(s): 
Ian Serraillier
Publisher: 
Scholastic
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
218 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Escape from Warsaw, also known as the Silver Sword, is a very historically accurate account (based on a conglomeration of many true stories) of a Polish family who are separated by war and struggle and find each other again through many hardships. An interesting and likeable story beloved by many, it's a great read for ages ten and up.

Review Date: 
10-13-03
Reviewed by: 

Life is Beautiful

Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

This serves as a tamer, but every-bit-as-powerful, version of Schindler's List (at least in-so-far as it portrays the reality of the Nazi concentration camps and the hopelessness and unfairness suffered by its prisoners). Perhaps because this is a "fable" rather than biography, it manages to portray the awfulness of war in a more subtle way - without all the gore and through the eyes of a child. It's still quite intense, though, and would only be suitable for teens and adults. (I recommend that parents preview it themselves first.) The story follows an Italian Jew, his wife and son as they are sent to a concentration camp and struggle with life there. The father (Roberto Benigni), in particular uses his creativity and quirky sense of humor to keep his son alive and encourage his wife to remain hopeful.

Review Date: 
7-21-03
Reviewed by: 

Number the Stars

Book cover: 'Number the Stars'
Author(s): 
Lois Lowry
Copyright: 
1989
Publisher: 
Bantam Doubleday
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
137 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

The amazing true story of how the people of Denmark secretly transported their Jewish countrymen by boat to safety in Sweden during World War II is told through the eyes of a girl and her family who assist in this effort. Suspense and action are intertwined with fascinating historical details of how the Danes succeeded in this endeavor right under the noses of the Nazis. There are some beautiful comments about the heroism of King Christian X and the devotion of his people toward him. There is a curious statement by the author at one point that the girl and her mother have become equals. I think this statement is intended to convey how these unusual events forced children into early adulthood through fighting these evils side-by-side with their parents.

Review Date: 
3-25-02
Reviewed by: 

Priestblock 25487

A Memoir of Dachau
Author(s): 
Jean Bernard
Translator(s): 
Deborah Lucas Schneider
Publisher: 
Zaccheus Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
177 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Spellbinding! From its opening pages, I was absolutely riveted to Fr. Bernard’s incredible story of faith and courage. Already familiar with that hell on earth, I was hesitant to read Priestblock 25487, A Memoir of Dachau.

I took the plunge and was richly rewarded. It was one of the most inspiring stories I have ever read. With deep humility and simple piety, Fr. Bernard’s tells his horrific story of living (if you can call it that) in Dachau from May 19, 1941 to August 5, 1942.

During World War II, priests were regularly rounded up and sent to concentration camps, in particular Dachau. The Nazi regime did not want the priests to administer the sacraments or spiritually lift up those around them, so they isolated them from the other prisoners. Fr. Bernard was a priest from Luxembourg, who never knew why he was sent there.

Throughout the story, two thoughts continually weave in and out. We witness man’s sadistic, cruelty to man and God’s transforming love though man. How is it possible for a starving man to offer up his meager ration of bread for his fellow prisoner? Out of love, he has placed the needs of the other person above his own.

The profound love that these priests have for the Eucharist leaves the reader without doubt that the Eucharist is real, life sustaining, and transforming.

I did not want to read this book, because I did not want to remind myself of man’s inhumanity to man. I would like to pretend that it did not exist, but that would be a lie. Even more importantly, even though the Third Reich no longer exists, Christian persecution continues to exist throughout the world today in many forms.

Reading this book reminds me to not take my faith for granted, to sink my roots deeper, so that I may fly higher, and that I too, in my meager, humble way, may offer my sacrifices like those heroic men and priests, who suffered incredible barbarism, to the capital of grace for the greater glory and joy of our Heavenly Father.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

I would recommend this book for every high school student!

Review Date: 
9-9-2008
Reviewed by: 

Schindler's List

Copyright: 
1993
Publisher: 
Universal Studios
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

This is a remarkable movie and the heart of the story is very beautiful. Two stories are intertwined. The first is simply the story of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis during World War II. The second is the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, determined to profit from the war by hiring Jews as cheap laborers. He is a womanizer, living the high life through in spite of the suffering around him. Steven Spielberg has artfully combined these themes by contrasting Schindler with the Nazi Commandant he interacts with and by the positive changes that develop in Schindler even as the evils of the Holocaust grow.

The movie is available (probably at your local library) on two video tapes. The first tape basically sets up the story of the Holocaust and how brutal it was. I understand that Spielberg thought this was important because he had become aware that many people today don't believe the Holocaust actually happened. There is a great deal of gore, nudity and other difficult content. Given the desensitization in our culture to gore and violence in movies in general, Spielberg may have felt that a graphic and realistic portrayal was necessary. I personally don't believe it is necessary to see all of this in order to grasp the importance of the story (particularly since most of my readers probably have no doubts about the reality of the Holocaust). I also don't think it's particularly healthy - spiritually or psychologically if you will - to plant such images in the imagination - particularly for young people. I suggest skipping this entire first tape.

The second tape focuses on the story of Oscar Schindler and how he rescued over a thousand Jews from certain death in the Nazi concentration camps. Even though it is milder in content than the first tape, it still contains some offensive/mature/objectionable content. Parents should definitely preview it before considering it for more mature high schoolers. Even then, it would probably be reasonable to edit certain portions with the fast-forward button. The ending is amazing and very powerful as we see the dramatic change in Schindler's character, his return to his wife and the Faith and, especially, his overpowering realization of the value of human life.

Despite the graphic scenes, the morals offered by the story in its entirety are good. I'm appreciative of Spielberg's acknowledgments within the story that Schindler's Catholic faith is connected with his good deeds.

For those who don't want to tackle this rather difficult movie, the story of Oskar Schindler is also told in A Place to Hide: True Stories of Holocaust Rescues by Jayne Pettit

Additional notes: 

Rated R, 197 minutes, Black and White

Director: Steven Spielberg, Starring: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes

Review Date: 
7-21-03
Reviewed by: 

Snow Treasure

Author(s): 
Marie McSwigan
Copyright: 
1942
Publisher: 
Scholastic
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
159 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This is the exciting story of the heroic children of Norway who secretly smuggled their country's wealth in gold on sleds past Nazi occupiers so that it could be shipped to America and kept out of the hands of the Nazis. The story is exciting and involves great dangers, but is carefully crafted within a setting that is not too intense for children. Written in the early years of World War II, it includes interesting details that our modern history books seem to forget. In particular, some noteworthy details include the secretive ways in which the Nazis prepared to conquer a country and some specifics of the persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland. The author writes with a great sense of honesty and purpose in illustrating the tactics of evil and the virtues necessary to overcome them without any kind of preachiness or insincerity. Recommended in Catholic Authors 4-Sight Edition

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
6-5-02
Reviewed by: 

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