Illustrated by Gillian Newland
Second Story Press, 2014.
Werner is a teenager in what’s called the Family Camp of Auschwitz. Separated from his mother, Werner shares a top bunk with a man named Herr Levin. Werner’s days are filled with waiting in lines and doing exercise or labor, whatever the guards order. He is always hungry because the guards allow each prisoner a meager amount of food. Soon Werner’s nights are filled with guards, too. They come in the night to make Herr Levin perform magic tricks for them. One day Herr Levin teaches Werner his favorite card tricks.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and this new picture book is an effective way to remember the millions who lost their liberty and their lives to the death camps. The story is a true one as related to Kathy Kacer by Werner Reich. It’s a somber story and the sadness is reflected in Newland’s fine illustrations. The detailed drawings of the camp contain muted, somber colors. Only the playing cards stand out as a tie to the brighter, happier world outside Auschwitz.
Both Werner and Herr Levin survived their terrible time at Auschwitz, though they never met again in their lifetimes. In time, Werner used what he’d learned from the magician to perform for his friends and family.
In straightforward style Kacer and Newland present a story about a terrible time and a terrible place. The story shows the resilience of human nature and gives a heartwarming example of kindness even in the face of terrible cruelty. Because this story is skillfully told, I believe it would be appropriate for children of many ages. The severity of the conditions in the camp is not glossed over, but by using magic as the focus of this story, Kacer has found a way that children may focus on the aspects of the story they are ready to hear.
Historical notes and photographs on the real men involved in the story and on the Holocaust itself are found in the back of the book for students who would like more information. This book would make a wonderful class read-aloud for any unit on World War II or the Holocaust. Teachers of elementary school through high school students could use this book to begin a discussion of the camps and the people and relationships within them.