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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rescuing the Children, written by Deborah Hodge. Tundra, Random House. 2012. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Saying goodbye was a heartbreaking experience for the families. Parents hugged and kissed their children. They asked them to write letters and stay in touch. Everyone, including the children, tried to be brave, for no one knew what the future would hold. Many of the trains left the station at night and parents were not allowed onto the platform."

I think that Deborah Hodge's choice to write her story of the Kindertransport without a lot of emotion, yet wanting to inform her readers of the upheaval for so many at the onset of World War II, is just right for her intended audience. It was a horrific decision for parents to make...to let their children go into the unknown on the chance that their lives might be saved from the terror that was encompassing Europe. None of us can imagine it unless we have lived through something so horrific.

I cannot fathom making that choice. Yet, parents and those who wanted to protect the children did what they felt necessary to save their lives and protect them from the horrors of war. There were 10,000 children from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany transported to Great Britain by rail and ship. Their journeys were often arduous, and they were homesick. Some realized that they might never see their families again, others felt they were being sent on a holiday. They were three months to sixteen years of age.

The voices of eight survivors are heard throughout the telling, in numerous comment boxes. We meet them first as children, and later as they are today, seventy years after leaving all that was familiar to find a new life:

"As well as forming loving families, the Kinder worked and studied hard and made important contributions to society. They became teachers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, professors, journalists, scientists, musicians, authors, filmmakers, politicians, artists and athletes. Many were also successful businesspeople, and a few of the Kinder have even won the Nobel Prize."

The visual look of her book is appealing and informative. There are many archival and personal photos, along with squares from memory quilts and the powerful artwork of Hans Jackson, whose images showed life as it was lived through the eyes and art of a Jewish teenager living in Berlin in the 1930s. Deborah Hodge also includes a map, timeline, resource lists, a glossary, and a  note about reunions that have been held for the Kinder since they were transported.

A small quibble for me would be that the glossary mostly reiterates what has already been included in parentheses throughout the text. I found those explanations somewhat distracting, and would have preferred to read them once in the 'words to know' that is included in backmatter.

Bravo to those heroic and compassionate people willing to risk their lives to save the children, and to those who opened their hearts and homes to those displaced by war. For the parents and families who made the unbearable decision to let their children leave, I cannot imagine the heartbreak.

In a note to parents and teachers, Deborah Hodge makes it clear that too many children died. This story is a hopeful and bright spot for a significant number of others. And she cautions:

"There is no easy way to tell a young person about the Holocaust. It is a topic that requires the discretion of parents and teachers who will know the best time and approach for discussing this sensitive subject."

I think she has told her story with sensitivity and honor to the Kinder.

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