Heather's Reviews > Yellow Star

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy
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Oct 25, 11

bookshelves: children, historical-fiction, jewish-studies, novels, poetry, war, wwii
Read on October 24, 2011

This historical fiction book about Syvia, later known as Sylvia, one of twelve children to survive WWII in the Lodz ghetto in Poland, falls into the new tradition of novel-in-verse. I've found that I really love the use of that style in this genre--it lends a grittiness and immediacy to the writing that takes on the quality of fleeting impressions of memory rather than long drawn-out descriptions looking back on the past from a contemporary viewpoint.

Syvia's story is shocking and amazing. In reading it, it's easy to see why it's a miracle that any children survived life in the ghetto. Syvia managed to win out over starvation and illness. Not only did her father have to evade the Nazi campaign to take away all of the children of the ghetto and cart them off to be gassed to death, he also had to use his wits to hide her and the other children who were left toward the end of the war when the Nazis offered families the chance to take the train voluntarily and "work" to clean up Germany (a.k.a. go to a concentration camp and probably die). Syvia's father followed his gut feelings, which told him that their family mustn't listen to the Nazis and must stay in Lodz at all costs. On top of that, after the Nazis cleared out, the Jews had to survive the bombing of the ghetto and were quick and smart enough to gather in an open square away from the buildings where a Jewish Russian pilot saw the light reflected off of their yellow stars and called a halt to the attack. In the end, only about 0.3% of the Jews who were corralled in the ghetto like animals survived.

Even more amazing to me was that, even though Syvia suffered from nightmares for years after their ordeal was over, she displayed such remarkable resiliency during the war. Her family was able to shelter her (and the reader) from much of the violence going on around her. Before her friend Hava disappeared and her friend Itka's family was instructed to leave on the train during the horrible liquidation of the ghetto, Syvia would play dolls with them and carry on almost as though things were normal. They could use their play to work out their feelings. Even after she had lost her friends and her family had to sell her doll, Syvia found ways to entertain herself like making dolls out of dust bunnies and finding out from how many different perspectives she could look at the family's room.

I didn't know much about what went on in the ghettos before reading this book. It's a haunting and moving introduction to a part the Holocaust other than the death camps that we hear so much about, told in poetry through the eyes of a child.
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