Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Forced to Live the Unimaginable

Imagine being forced to leave your home, your friends, everything you've known in your life. Imagine trying to pack all of your prized possessions into one small satchel. In What World is Left by Monique Polak, that is exactly what 11-year-old Anneke and her family are forced to do.

Anneke, her family and the other Jews living in Holland are transported to a "model" concentration camp, Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia in April, 1943. Inside this "model" city, Anneke experiences intense labor, inhumane living conditions, brutality, starvation, and she endures the unthinkable. She loses her best friend and even her first true love. Yet she is a fighter and continues to push on through it all.

Eventually the Nazis decide to use Anneke's father, who is a talented artist, to their advantage. Her father, along with several other talented Jews, assist the Nazis in creating the Embellishment, a carefully devised scheme to fool the International Red Cross into believing Theresienstadt is indeed a model city, and that all prisoners are happy and treated well. Anneke has a hard time accepting her father's role in aiding the Nazis, until she eventually discovers the truth and realizes the sacrifices he makes in order to protect his family.

This book is a well-written, heart-wrenching story about a young Jewish girl's struggles with not only surviving but maintaining the will to survive. Similar to Night by Elie Wiesel, it is an excellent example of historical fiction, providing readers with a realistic look into life in a concentration camp during World War II. I would recommend this book to either freshman or sophomores since that is typically when students might read Night. The content is intense, yet students will be surprised at how they might find themselves relating to Anneke. While the situational details may be different, Anneke, too, was unable to be with the one she loved, felt annoyed by her little brother and even doubted that her parents knew what was best - all things typical teenagers experience.

I encourage both teenagers and adults to dive right into this exceptional historical fiction novel.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for being the first to publish a blog. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by this. You gave a very nice review of your book and set a very good example for the rest of us.


Stu1980 said...

This sounds very interesting. I tend to love reading about the horrors of WW2, and there are so many stories to be told from this horrible conflict.

Amy said...

Yes it is sad as all concentration camp stories are but it's also very uplifting in a weird sort of way. The author's mother was a prisoner at this camp so while the story is fiction it has some realistic elements to it.

Anne said...

I love reading about the Holocaust and am glad to see that there are many more books other than Anne Frank out there. Also great to see the similarities between Anneke and today's young adults.

Tom Philion said...

Very nice review, AMY! I especially appreciate the connection to Night--makes a ton of sense from what you say here. I also am so intrigued by the "Embellishment" idea--what a great concept for a novel.

I highly recommend a novel called Tamar, another great story about opposition in Holland that would connect also well with this novel.

Strong writing here Amy--thanks for sharing!

Mallory Umar said...

Wow Amy. Thank you for writing this amazing review, you certainly grabbed my attention. Looking at the Holocaust from a child's perspective is extremely important, the child observes and sees thing and makes their own conclusions becuase that is all they know. This book seems to show the complexity of everything that was going on at the time.

hutting said...

This book and other Holocaust books show the stength of human endurance. Slavery and the Holocaust show the evils of mankind, but we can all gain strength from realing books like this one. Children often feel powerless, but this story shows that kids have more strength than they know is in them and their families.

Clarissa H. said...

Hi Amy,

I enjoyed reading your review. I think that Elie Wiesel's Night and Diary of Anne Frank are good Holocaust novels to use in school, but it seems sometimes that they are "overused." It sounds like this novel would be a good alternative text to try in high school classrooms.