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The Night of the Burning: Devorah's Story
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The Night of the Burning: Devorah's Story

by Linda Press Wulf

Devorah’s world is shattered by the tragedies of post–Great War Europe: gas poisoning, famine, typhoid, and influenza. Then comes the Night of the Burning, when Cossacks provoke Christian Poles to attack their Jewish neighbors. In 1920, eleven-year-old Devorah and her little sister, Nechama, are the sole survivors of their community. Salvation


Devorah’s world is shattered by the tragedies of post–Great War Europe: gas poisoning, famine, typhoid, and influenza. Then comes the Night of the Burning, when Cossacks provoke Christian Poles to attack their Jewish neighbors. In 1920, eleven-year-old Devorah and her little sister, Nechama, are the sole survivors of their community. Salvation arrives in the form of a South African philanthropist named Isaac Ochberg, who invites Devorah and Nechama to join his group of two hundred orphans in their journey to safety in South Africa. Although reluctant to leave her homeland, and afraid to forget her family, Devorah follows her sister, who is determined to go to the new country. There Devorah is dealt the greatest blow – Nechama is adopted and taken away from her. In the end, though, Devorah realizes that she is not solely responsible for keeping the past alive, and that she will not betray her beloved parents when she is adopted herself – and finds happiness again.


This gripping first novel, inspired by and based closely on the childhood of the author’s mother-in-law, was recipient of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award.


The Night of the Burning is a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An insightful exploration of the effects of traumatic experiences . . . Masterful." —School Library Journal

"Heartbreaking and poignant with a touching, positive conclusion." —Kirkus Reviews

"Gripping." —Booklist

"Touching." —The Horn Book

Children's Literature - Heather Robertson Mason
The Holocaust is studied in most schools, but the different events that led up to it are often ignored. This book tells of one such event. Between the world wars, thousands of Jewish people were killed during Russian-led pograms. Many children who were orphaned at this time were smuggled into South Africa and adopted by Jewish families that lived there. The author's mother-in-law was one of these children. While this book is historical fiction, some of the characters, including the narrator, are based on real people, and many of the events really happened. This book stands out among Holocaust fiction because it tells of a time and place that have not been presented to adolescent audiences before. For Language Arts teachers it provides a supplement to Anne Frank, and for history teachers it helps answer the question "How did this happen," as well as provide an interesting comparison between racism in Europe and South Africa. The story alternates between 1915, before the narrator's parents are killed, and 1921, during the narrator's selection and journey to South Africa. This format may be hard for struggling readers to follow without guidance, but the story itself is riveting.
In alternating chapters, twelve-year-old Devorah Lehrman describes her life from 1915 to 1924. The Great War, now known as World War I, and the Russian Revolution leaves her community desolate and impoverished. Her family of four never has enough food, and she worries that her father will be drafted into the army. She and her little sister, Nechama, watch helplessly as typhoid fever kills both parents. Then there is the night of the burning in 1920 when Cossacks (Russian soldiers) and Christian peasants in Domachevo-their Polish village-set homes, barns, and even the synagogue on fire, killing nearly all the Jews in the village. Devorah and Nechama watch in horror as their heroic aunt dies while trying to protect them. Orphans, the girls try to stick together, but Nechama's independence proves challenging. Although Devorah is skeptical of Isaac Ochberg's invitation to travel to South Africa where they can live safely, Nechama is determined to go, even if she has to leave Devorah behind. In the end, they make the trip, from an orphanage in Pinsk, Poland, with 198 other orphans who hope to find refuge. Recipient of the 1998 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award (presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries), this book is the author's first novel, based on the early years of her mother-in-law's life. Although the book, which includes a useful glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words, moves at a rather slow pace, readers interested in Jewish history prior to Nazi occupation in World War II will want to stick with it until the very end. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9).2006, Farrar Straus Giroux, 224p., $16. Ages 11 to 15.
—KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson
As the novel opens, 11-year-old Devorah and her little sister Nechama are in an orphanage in Poland. It is 1920 and they have survived a horrific pogram, which took the lives of family and friends. Devorah is understandably struck with sadness and it is the reflection of that pain in her eyes that catches the attention of Isaac Ochberg. Ochberg is on a mission, a mission to relocate these Jewish children from the horrors of Europe into new homes in South Africa. As Devorah and Nechama prepare to leave Poland, Devorah remembers her mother and father. She recalls their lives in Poland, the devastation of WW I, and the new dangers of the Russian Revolution. She also has the opportunity to travel, to see the cities of Warsaw, where she becomes the helper of the woman who houses them for a time, and London, where she is given the honor of caring for a library of books destined for South Africa. Devorah is a serious, determined girl, but Nechama is a playful child. Not able to remember the events that they lived through, it is her playfulness and laughter that attract the attention of the wealthy Stein family. They adopt Nechama, but not her older sister. Devorah is adopted by the Kagans, a middle-class couple; she is able to make a home with them and she recognizes that she has found family and happiness there. The story is based on the life of Wulf's mother-in-law and sheds light on a little-known historical circumstance. The picture of life recreated here is not an easy one, but is one that further enriches the story of Jewish struggle and survival. KLIATT Codes: J--Recommended for junior high school students. 2006, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 224p., $16.00.. Ages 12 to 15.
School Library Journal

Gr 5�8
This first-person narrative is an insightful exploration of the effects of traumatic experiences, and an ultimately hopeful portrait of a young girl. In 1920 Devorah, 11, and her younger sister are the sole Jewish survivors of their Polish village after a pogrom. Protecting Nechama, and remembering their family and heritage, becomes the purpose of Devorah's life. Then Mr. Ochberg arrives at the orphanage and invites them to join other children on a voyage to a new life in Cape Town, South Africa. Nechama insists that she will go, so her sister goes, too. When Nechama is adopted by a wealthy family, Devorah is devastated to be separated from her. Her own adoption by a less wealthy and emotionally restrained couple takes her on a difficult journey toward acceptance of her new life. The historical background in both countries is well portrayed, and Wulf does a masterful job of showing the complexity of relationships among religious and ethnic groups in both societies. The relationships between the protagonist, her adoptive parents, and their domestic worker are particularly well realized. However, the light that shines through this book is the carefully imagined and described process of painful but ultimately positive personal growth that Devorah experiences. An account of the real Devorah's life after the events in the novel and a historical note are appended. Children searching for a place in the world and wondering about the experiences of others in situations of conflict and violence will take this story to their hearts.
—Sue GiffardCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Losing their parents to influenza and typhoid fever, Devorah and Nehama endure another frightening and brutally senseless experience in their young lives when their simple early 20th-century Russian shtetl is attacked in an anti-Semitic pogrom. The orphans witness the gruesome stabbing death of their guardian, while everything burns to the ground. In the days following the violence, they are rescued by a British-based Jewish agency and begin a long trip to a strange new country: South Africa. Based on a true story, the fictionalized Devorah recounts her despair and hesitant hope fluctuating between divergent scenes. Her hardworking, happy village life-in spite of the everyday prejudices displayed by Christian neighbors-is described against her introduction to the wider industrialized world through her emigration and subsequent adoption. Making peace with the past is difficult, but accepting separation as a result of her sister's joyful adoption by a wealthy couple adds yet another harsh dimension. Wulf creates an emotionally charged narrative that captures a sad, bittersweet, sometimes resentful and starkly realistic girl struggling to remember the past while forging ahead with an entirely altered future. Heartbreaking and poignant with a touching, positive conclusion. (Fiction. 12-15)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.88(d)
810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

LINDA PRESS WULF lives in Berkeley, California.

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