Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyIsabella Leitner has already made a valuable contribution to Holocaust literature with her Fragments of Isabella , an especially graceful memoir for adults that describes her wartime experiences. These included a traumatic deportation from her native Hungary, incarceration in Auschwitz and a death march from which she and two of her sisters escaped. Presenting this difficult material to children, Leitner focuses on the personal, saving a historical overview for an afterword (the afterword explains the title: Hitler's tactic of blaming the Jews for the catastrophic depression of 1933 was known as the ``Method of the Big Lie''). Her approach allows readers to appreciate the young Isabella's incomprehension of the Final Solution even as she generates a coherent and compelling narrative. The inescapable horrors of Auschwitz are neither spared nor sensationalized. What is missing, however, are many of the telling details that make Leitner's adult work so affecting--and some other important details as well, such as the ages of Leitner and her siblings. If not quite as fully realized as Ruth Minsky Sender's The Cage and To Life , Leitner's book nonetheless conveys its message powerfully and responsibly. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 8-11. (Sept.)
School Library Journal - School Library JournalGr 3-5-- Leitner's family's relative security in their small Hungarian town is shattered in 1944 with the beginning of anti-Semitic pronouncements and the restrictions on Jewish activities. They are first relocated to Auschwitz, where her mother and youngest sister are ``selected'' for death. The narrative covers a one-year period and includes information about time spent in Auschwitz and Birnbaumel; it concludes with liberation by the Russians and eventual reunification of the three surviving sisters with their father in America. Despite the fact that there are descriptions of daily horror and atrocities, this account is not involving. The simple sentence structure results in prose that is stilted; it lacks rich, descriptive language. The fact that the story covers only one year leaves readers with a spare, fragmented impression. Since there is no ``normal'' time with which to compare the period described, the potential impact of loss and devastation is not realized. This is a Holocaust survival story written for a young audience or for readers for whom English is a second language. However, the information presented and the quality of storytelling are minimally effective. --Susan Kaminow, Arlington County Public Library, VA
Hazel RochmanOnly the facts. In the barest prose Leitner tells what happened to her. In 1944 the Nazis came to her small Hungarian town, rounded up all the Jews, first into crowded ghettos and then into cattle trains bound for Auschwitz. On their arrival at the death camp, Dr. Joseph Mengele was there in white gloves, pointing either to the left or to the right. Isabella, her three sisters, and her brother went to the right; her mother and baby sister went to the left, where they died in the gas chambers and then were burned in the crematoriums. There was always black, stinking smoke pouring from the chimneys. "At Auschwitz between ten and twenty thousand people were killed every day in the summer of 1944." Immediately, Isabella lost her clothes, her name, her hair. She slept 14 to a shelf. She and her sisters survived together, even on the death march to Bergen-Belsen; her brother, miraculously, got messages through to them, even in Auschwitz; but one sister was caught when they tried to escape, and she was beaten and died. Then the Russian liberators came, and the survivors of the family were reunited with their father in the U.S., where he had been since 1939, trying to get visas to bring them out There's no rhetoric, no tears, no hand-wringing about "atrocity" and "horror." The book is short, the type spacious. Just facts. The telling has the elemental power of the best children's literature, in which the simplicity is poetic and speaks volumes. Pedersen's occasional charcoal sketches are also quiet expressions of menace and loss, whether it's the small picture of the bookbag Isabella's youngest sister took on the transport or a double-page view of the electrified wire and the watchtower and the smoke. Leitner's adult memoirs are widely read, especially "Fragments of Isabella" (1978). This book is meant for children, and it is an excellent choice for the Holocaust studies now required by many school districts. It also belongs on the high school shelves. Readers can go from here to Primo Levi's classic "Survival in Auschwitz" (1959), which makes of these facts a mythic journey to hell.
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