Hanna Kaminsky loves gymnastics, her best friend Eva, Elza's chicken soup with dumplings and reading. But in September 1939 the happy life that Hanna has always known disappears. The Nazis have invaded Poland and are herding all Jews into ghettos in the cities. Hanna's family are forced into hiding in the countryside. For a while it seems they are safe. But hiding from the Germans means trusting others. Rounded up by the SS, Hanna and her family are sent to the Warsaw Ghetto where they must use whatever skills they have to survive.
The Holocaust is something that some of my family members were involved in and therefore is is rather dear to my heart. The chance to read a book like this gives me the opportunity to feel a little of what our family would have gone through. It makes me so glad that I live in today's society and not during the war. Based on my reading of books like this and movies, I have gained some notion of what things were like and I can really only imagine what the people actually went through. It was just so horrific. I had the opportunity to visit Sachsenhausen concentration camp a number of years ago, and although 'Hanna: My Holocaust Story' wasn't actually focused on the concentration camps, I felt a similar horror, numbness and sadness reading this book as I did when I visited the camp. The story felt real and while reading the book, I had vivid images of what was happening for the characters in my mind. I really felt for them.
The book is divided into sections, one for each year that is covered in the story. It actually begins with 1941 and then goes back to 1939, before progressing through the years to 1943. It is interesting how this is done, as the reader is faced with the grim situation in the ghetto in Warsaw. The reader is then taken back in time to a somewhat 'normal' state of living. Although there is still fear and danger, the family are living in their own house and carrying out some of their normal routines. This contrast is really effective as the reader feels the sense of loss a number of times in the book and gets a sense of what life might have been like if the terrors of the the war didn't change their lives forever.
'Hanna: My Holocaust Story' gives faces, emotions and experiences to people who might have been involved in the reality of the holocaust. It is easier to relate to the situation by getting to know a single family and how it affected them. Even though the book is fiction, it is all based on fact. There are historical notes at the back of the book. These make very good reading and help give the story validity as it is underpinned with historical research and information.
There are no photos or illustrations throughout the book. This leaves the reader to visualise everything. Based on previous knowledge from books, movies, photos etc, I created my own image of what the ghetto in Warsaw was like. I have since gone onto the internet and had a look for some photos to see if my imagination and the reality were close. I found that some of the actual photos really did back up and build on what I had imagined. The book has certainly sparked an interest in reading more on the topic. Like me, there will be many readers out there who have a direct family link to the Holocaust and I think that this story would be of interest and educational value to them to understand more of what their families would have gone through. By telling these stories, hopefully the generations of today will ensure that this sort of thing never happens again.
The book is set at a good pace and allows the reader to digest what is happening to the people in the book. The events take place over a number of years and involve people who are in a variety of circumstances. We have a chance to see how people risked their own lives to help others, even when they were in serious danger themselves. It would be a chance to think about what one might do in the same situation - would I keep myself and my family safe at all costs or would I take in people who needed protection and suffer the potential consequences? This is a seriously thought provoking and evocative book which I would highly recommend. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, 'Miri: My Holocaust Story", which is due out in 2016.
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