Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps

Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps

4.7 33
by Andrea Warren

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"Think of it as a game, Jack.
Play the game right and you might outlast the Nazis."

Caught up in Hitler's Final Solution to annihilate Europe's Jews, fifteen-year-old Jack Mandelbaum is torn from his family and thrown into the nightmarish world of the concentration camps. Here, simple existence is a constant struggle, and Jack must

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"Think of it as a game, Jack.
Play the game right and you might outlast the Nazis."

Caught up in Hitler's Final Solution to annihilate Europe's Jews, fifteen-year-old Jack Mandelbaum is torn from his family and thrown into the nightmarish world of the concentration camps. Here, simple existence is a constant struggle, and Jack must learn to live hour to hour, day to day. Despite intolerable conditions, he resolves not to hate his captors and vows to see his family again. But even with his strong will to survive, how long can Jack continue to play this life-and-death game?

Award-winning author Andrea Warren has crafted an unforgettable true story of a boy becoming a man in the shadow of the Third Reich.

Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
...this book is not only a compelling testimony to the Holocaust but an involving survival story as well.
Bulletin of the Center for Children' s Books
...Mandelbaum's unadorned words have blunt impact.
Jack Mandelbaum, a Polish Jew, had a happy family life until 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, beginning World War II. Fifteen-year-old Jack is sent to Nazi concentration camps. Despite fear, starvation, and other horrors, he survives. Teachers often use fiction to introduce the Holocaust—particularly the concentration camp experience—to younger students, who are not as emotionally ready as older teens for titles such as Elie Wiesel's Night. Warren's book would be a perfect nonfiction title for fifth through seventh grade. The author gets the tone just right for the age level. She does not skirt the horrors, but because Jack maintains a positive attitude, this book is not a devastating read. Warren includes enough background information so that students new to the subject will have some context, but not so much that the book will seem old hat to students who are already familiar with the Holocaust. The author includes good supplementary material, such as more information on concentration camps, and lists recommendations of excellent print and nonprint resources, organized according to age. Because few of Jack's family photos survived the war, the photographs used in the book are sometimes generic WWII-era photos—Hitler, a group of religious Jews, lines of people arriving at an unidentified concentration camp. These are high quality and evocative, however, and act more as background to Jack's story. Despite that quibble, this book is a valuable addition to Holocaust literature for children and teens and should be in every middle school collection. Index. Photos. Source Notes. Further Reading. VOYA CODES: 4Q 5P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses;Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001, HarperCollins, 160p, . Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Alice F. Stern SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Children's Literature
A boy's youth is the subject of Andrea Warren's Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. At twelve, Jack Mendelbaum's successful father sent his family to the countryside to escape their Nazi-occupied Polish town. He told Jack, his eldest son, "I am counting on you to take care of our family." Jack did his best to support his family, taking on the tasks of grown men. Jack kept his promise until he faced the "worst moment" of his life when his actions separated him from his mother and brother forever. Alone at Blechhammer concentration camp, Jack's quick thinking and positive attitude helped him survive hunger, cold, sadistic guards, unbearable duties and the sorrows of those around him. He uses memories of boyhood competitions to beat "Hitler at his game." Above all, his primary strategy "was not to allow myself to hate. I knew I could be consumed by hate." Mandelbaum has followed this approach his entire life; he has taken "tolerance and forgiveness as the themes of my life," working with others to recognize and stop evil so that "there is hope for humanity." 2001, HarperCollins, . Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Through the words and memories of Jack Mandelbaum, Warren presents a harrowing account of a Jewish boy's experience in Nazi prison camps. Mandelbaum had lived a comfortable life with his family in Gdynia, Poland, until the German invasion forced them to flee to a relative's village in 1939. Later, when the Jews were sent to concentration camps, the 12-year-old became separated from the rest of his family and wound up in the Blechhammer camp. By describing events through the boy's voice, the author does an excellent job of letting his words carry the power of the story. She avoids historical analysis, sticking to Mandelbaum's experiences, and brings readers into the nightmarish world of the concentration camp with a strong feeling of immediacy. As with many stories of great suffering, some of the minor details, such as risking death to steal a jar of marmalade, deliver the most impact. Besides the physical hardship, Warren conveys how frustrating and confusing it was for a child in such an environment. Once liberated, the young man learned the sad fate of his family and as he ironically observed, had he known his parents and siblings would not survive, he might not have struggled so hard to live himself. Black-and-white contemporary photographs illustrate the book. This story works as an introduction to the Holocaust and will also interest readers of Lila Perl's Four Perfect Pebbles (Greenwillow, 1996), Anne Frank's diary, and other works on the period.-Steven Engelfried, Deschutes County Library, Bend, OR Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Harper Trophy Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.25(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Rumors of War, 1939

Until he was twelve, Jack Mandelbaum assumed his life would always be a carefree adventure.

He lived with his father, mother, older sister, and younger brother in beautiful Gdynia (ga-DIN-ya), Poland, on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

"Our city was the pride of Poland," Jack recalled, remembering his childhood. "Ships came into port from all over the world. I heard many foreign languages. I saw sailors who wore turbans, and black sailors from Africa. This was just part of my daily life."

Jack collected stamps and begged ship captains for ones from faraway places. He kept his stamps neatly categorized in books and loved to imagine the strange and exotic countries they came from.

His father, Majloch Mandelbaum -- "Max" to his friends -- was the prosperous owner of a fish cannery. The family lived comfortably in a spacious apartment with big windows on one of the most prominent streets of the city, just a few blocks from the beach.

"We had every modern convenience," Jack said. "Because I lived in the city, I did not realize that many people in Poland were without electricity, indoor plumbing, and telephones.

"Our home was filled with laughter and kisses. My parents were very much in love. They were openly affectionate with each other and with us children. It was a lovely life."

Jack's mother, Cesia (Sesha), dressed elegantly. She wore silk dresses, high heels, jewelry, and hats with veils. In cold weather, she wore her fur coat. She was very beautiful, with dark eyes and long, shiny black hair, which she arranged in the latest styles fromParis.

"Mama was the heart of our home," Jack said. "On winter nights, my mother would warm my comforter on our tile stove and then gently wrap it around me as I climbed into bed. She was an excellent cook and had many specialties. One of my favorites was a sweet fried pastry with pockets of jelly inside. I could never figure out how she got the jelly in there."

Mama took the three children to the market with her, on picnics in the nearby forest, and on outings in the mountains surrounding Gdynia. "We often went to the beach," Jack said. "I remember Papa sometimes taking a break from work to join us. From street vendors, he would buy us handmade waffle cones filled with delicious, rich cream."

The family employed a full-time housekeeper to help with laundry, cleaning, and cooking. Each morning, she arrived early by bus and streetcar from her nearby village to brew the coffee, filling the apartment with its strong aroma.

"She was a pretty, young woman, and I remember how she would lick the red wrapper the coffee came in and then rub it on her cheeks to make it look like she used rouge, which she could not afford," Jack said. "She was good-natured, and I loved to tease her."

Sometimes, Jack also teased Jakob, his brother, who was five years younger than he. Jakob was a handsome little boy and had his mother's jet black hair and dark eyes. Jack felt protective of him and often played with him. Like Jack, Jakob loved sports. Jack often took him to the ice-skating rink and played hockey with him.

Their sister, Jadzia (Ya-jah), was serious and studious. She was three years older than Jack. "Jadzia loved music and listened to Italian opera on the radio while she did her homework," Jack said. "She had perfect penmanship. She was gentle and kind. I remember that she wore little gold earrings with her school uniform, which was a navy blouse with a sailor collar and navy pleated skirt. She had black hair and big hazel-colored eyes."

Like his father, Jack had naturally curly blond hair and blue eyes. "Papa was my hero. I thought he was strong and brave, and I always felt safe with him. I remember the night he brought me a bicycle. It was not my birthday or anything; he just got it for me because he thought I would like it. Even though it was late, I immediately rode it around and around our big mahogany dining-room table. After that, I rode it everywhere, for I was free to come and go. I even entered bicycle races on Square Kosciuszko -- named for the Polish patriot who fought with George Washington in the American Revolution -- and once I won third place."

Every school day, before Jack put on his navy blue uniform and walked to his public school, his mother insisted he eat a big breakfast. Typically, it included fruit juice, hot cereal with milk and butter on it, a roll, cheese, and perhaps smoked fish, along with a boiled egg served in a little cup.

"Mama always packed a lunch for me, but after such a breakfast, sometimes I was not hungry, so I would give my food away to some of the poor children who attended our school."

When classes ended, Jack and his friends went to the movies -- Charlie Chaplin was Jack's favorite actor -- or they played soccer, rode their bikes, or went to see the Greco-Roman-style wrestling matches at the local sports arena. Often they headed to the beach or docks.

"I was a mischievous boy," Jack recalled. "My parents never knew all the things I did that I was not supposed to, especially at the boat docks. The worst was when my friends and I would swim alongside ships in the harbor. It was very dangerous, because you could be crushed between the ship and the dock. This had once happened to a boy. But I never thought about the danger. We would even climb up the ship ladders and then dive into the water. The port police often chased us. I was lucky my parents never found out, or I would have been punished. City boys like me learned to get away with things. We were clever."

Surviving Hitler. Copyright © by Andrea Warren. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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