For some reason, this one grabbed my attention when I was helping my kids pick out library books the other day. Normally I don’t read books on the Holocaust so much – they’re often too depressing for me – but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I’m not a history person, so I retained very little from school about the details of WWII. Mostly the war was presented through very politics-based viewpoints, and I tend to tune that out. This book, however, gives the war and the prejudice against anything anti-Germany a very different perspective.
The book is about two families who live in the same apartment complex in Denmark, the Johansens and the Rosens. The Rosens are Jewish. Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen, both 10, are best friends and do everything together. When the announcement comes that the Jews are to be “relocated,” the Johansen family does everything they can to protect the Rosens, first hiding Ellen and later trying to help her family escape to Sweden.
I learned a lot of details about the war that I never would have found out otherwise. There’s an afterword which talks about what is fact and what is fiction in the book, so that some of the more far-out elements are revealed actually to be truth. For example, its true that Danish fisherman helping to smuggle Jews were given handkerchiefs to divert dogs trained to sniff out human scent. Apparently Swedish scientists found a combination of dried rabbit’s blood and cocaine to put on the handkerchiefs, so that the dogs would be attracted to them but would temporarily lose their sense of smell at the first whiff. There was a lot of little informative tidbits like that that I liked. Plus, this book really showed the pervasive fear that was prevalent in countries taken over by the Nazis, without anything gory or wholly shocking. I can only read so many books about concentration camps, you know? But this book is very balanced. There is a lot of fear, much of it generalized and unspecific, an ignorant something’s-wrong-and-I-don’t-really-know-what sort of fear. The book is extremely suspenseful, and the tone is ultimately triumphant. I think it has equal merit for adults and children, written in a way to appeal to both. I was very impressed.