Nine-year-old Anna lives in Berlin, Germany with her parents and brother Max. Her father is part Jewish, and has written a number of newspaper articles that are critical of the Nazi party. Just before the election which catapults Adolf Hitler to power, the family flees to Switzerland. In the hasty exit, Anna leaves behind her stuffed animal Pink Rabbit. When a bounty is placed on her father’s head, they flee to Paris. Several years later, they leave France for England.
This story is semi-autobiographical, and portrays the early years of World War II through the eyes of a child. The author’s parents, like Anna’s parents, were fortunate enough to escape from Germany and save their lives. But they gave up a great deal – friends, a well-to-do lifestyle, a spacious house and almost all their possessions. Despite becoming refugees, downsizing to tiny living quarters, becoming impoverished, and learning new languages, they survived and thrived because the four of them stayed together as a family.
There have been so many books written about World War II that spell out the grizzly facts of what the victims suffered. This book tells the story on the level of a child’s understanding of the war. Anna knows a little bit about the war, but is mercifully ignorant of many details. Instead, the story focuses on the everyday life of a family that gives up their homeland to becomes refugees in a new country. Although the setting of the book is serious, there are many humorous parts, especially as Anna tries to learn French. It is well-written, and appropriate for anyone ages eight and older to read.
If there was a bright spot in World War II, it was Denmark’s battle to save their 7,800 Jewish neighbors from extermination. Germany invaded the small country in 1940 because they needed the meat and other food Denmark produced. King Christian X and the Danish leaders made it very clear to their captors that there was no “Jewish problem” in their country, and they expected their people to be left alone. For several years, the Danes pretended to cooperate, while building up a good resistance movement. In 1943 a German diplomat leaked the news that the Nazis would be rounding up all the Jews and moving them to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp, in just a couple days. The entire country went into rescue mode, and managed to shuttle almost all their Jewish citizens to Sweden, which agreed to take them in.
The story is told using the testimony of Danes who witnessed those years. The book is relatively short – 152 pages – which is enough to give you a good account of what happened without making you read forever and a day. The author did not include graphic or gory details, therefore it is suitable for reading by almost all ages. It’s an excellent book with which to introduce people to not only the ugliness of war, but the heroic efforts of many.
Excerpt from page 11:
Within days of the occupation, King Christian resumed his morning horseback ride through the streets of Copenhagen. He ignored German soldiers when they saluted him, but responded to the greetings of Danes. The king rode alone, to the surprise of the Germans, who always saw their Fuhrer protected by security guards.
“Who guards the king?” they asked the Danes.
“We all do,” was the answer.