When the Soldiers Were Gone

When the Soldiers Were Gone

4.6 6
by Vera Propp, J. Bonnell

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Henk was hidden on the farm when he was young and the Nazi soldiers came. But the war is over now, and Henk finds out that the people he lives with, the people he loves, are not his real family. He doesn't remember his real parents, and now a new life in the city lies ahead of him. Will things ever be the same?


Henk was hidden on the farm when he was young and the Nazi soldiers came. But the war is over now, and Henk finds out that the people he lives with, the people he loves, are not his real family. He doesn't remember his real parents, and now a new life in the city lies ahead of him. Will things ever be the same?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A moving, well-written novel." —School Library Journal, starred review

"Based on a true story, this spare, beautiful first novel captures the hidden survivor's trauma from the small child's bewildered point of view." —Booklist, starred review

...beautiful first novel captures the hidden survivor's trauma from the small child's bewildered point of view.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A dramatic true event turns pallid in this unconvincing first novel set at the close of WWII. Living on a Dutch farm with Mama and Papa, Henk has rejoiced with them at the defeat of the "bad soldiers"--but his whole world turns upside-down when "Mama and Papa" tell him that they are not in fact his parents. Henk's real name, which he has forgotten, is Benjamin, and his real father and mother are David and Elsbet, Jews who have survived the war in hiding. The boy's reunion with his parents and his transformation from Henk to Benjamin should be exciting subjects, but the characterizations are so pat as to flatten the material. In attempting to narrate from Henk/Benjamin's perspective, Propp relies on artificial-sounding interior monologues with lots of wide-eyed questions: "It wouldn't be proper to call [David and Elsbet] by their first names. What should I call them, he asked himself. How do I know they are really my parents as they say they are?" The dangers of the war, revealed in flashbacks and through Elsbet's conversations with her son, never take on immediacy. Middle-graders interested in a more authentic treatment of problems Dutch Jewish children faced in coming out of hiding after the war should see Ida Vos's novels Hide and Seek and Anna Is Still Here. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
ng to live in a city with his real parents, and adopted brother. Finally, painful memories glimmer from his past and he begins to remember, understand, and adjust.
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
What is the right age to begin teaching children the literature of the Holocaust? It is a difficult and much-debated question among historical and religious educators. The few picture books that deal with the intense and frightening historical period are aimed at older readers (Innocente's Rose Blanche comes instantly to mind). Vera Propp's chapter book speaks to children in third through fifth grade and, as such, deals not with the issue of genocide but with the fearful and trauma-filled life of a "hidden child." Henk learns, only when his biological parents come to claim him, that the family he considers his own are Dutch "righteous Gentiles" who have sheltered him during the war. Deprived of all that is familiar, the child, who is now called Benjamin, must adjust to an unfamiliar environment and a new family, including an adopted younger "brother," his orphaned cousin Carl. The horrors of the Holocaust are briefly described by Benjamin's parents, but never given graphic substance, which is appropriate for the age of the intended reader. In addition to introducing the Holocaust and the Jewish persecutions during World War II, this book may open discussions on child abandonment and how a contemporary child might react to the loss and the pull between foster and biological parents. Based on a true story, this is a gently told and very appropriate introduction to a tragic subject.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6--An uncomplicated account of a boy's readjustment after World War II in Holland. Eight-year-old Henk is stunned when he discovers that the family he has been living with are not his blood relatives. After being reunited with his biological parents, who are Jewish, Henk learns that his name is really Benjamin Van Sorg and that he was sent to live with a Christian family during the war. As he slowly adjusts to his new life and identity, memories from his early childhood gradually return, including the yellow star on his coat and a frightening encounter with a Nazi soldier. At the end of the book, when he and his parents return to their house, the place seems familiar and welcoming, and he finally feels that he is home. Propp's use of simple language helps the story flow smoothly. The author creates and sustains a mood that coincides with the readjustment phase that takes place after a trauma. Historical facts are successfully integrated into the narrative, and Henk's first-person telling makes the effects of the war tangible to readers. When the Soldiers Were Gone rates highly among other stories about the period, such as Jane Yolen's more sophisticated The Devil's Arithmetic (Viking, 1988) and David Adler's Hilde & Eli (Holiday, 1994). A moving, well-written novel.--Adrian Renee Stevens, Beaver Creek School, West Jefferson, NC
Horn Book Magazine
Eight-year-old Henk lives happily on a farm with his loving Papa and Mama and his brother and sister, Pieter and Miep. Now that the war, and the German occupation of Holland, is over, Henk no longer has to hide in a hamper when the Nazi soldiers come; although he still doesn't go to school like his siblings, he can run and play outside his home. Propp disrupts this idyll in the first chapter-Henk's natural parents come to reclaim the child they had entrusted to Papa and Mama when the Jewish family was forced into hiding. Henk is a good boy, and he dutifully goes with David and Elsbeth when his anguished protests that he is not their son Benjamin prove futile. Slowly, won over by childlike pleasures as simple as eating cake (made with sugar saved for his homecoming) and as thrilling as the promise of attending school, Henk adjusts to his new life; and although he never stops loving Papa and Mama, he begins to remember joyful and sad events from his forgotten past that work to reunite him emotionally with David and Elsbeth. The miracle of this sweet tale, based on an actual wartime story, is the constancy of Henk's voice: in a limited third-person narrative, Propp never forgets her young protagonist, and we see his world entirely through his eyes.
Kirkus Reviews
Young Henk is shocked to learn that the two strangers at the door are his real parents, come to reclaim him from the Dutch farming couple who had protected him for three years from the Nazis. This fictionalized account of an actual "hidden child's" post-WWII experience is written in spare, ingenuous style, effectively capturing an eight-year-old's view of a reasonably familiar, comfortable world suddenly turned upside down. His initial upset calmed by the patient, loving adults around him, he gradually adapts to living in a war-damaged town, to answering to his real name, "Benjamin," and to a new baby brother (actually an orphaned cousin) as his buried memories slowly begin to resurface. Propp's protagonist never develops a distinct personality, but his experiences at home, at school, and at play focus not so much on wider historical issues as on what would be important to a child: food, friends, a sense of belonging. Readers whose interest in hidden children has been sparked by such nonfiction works as Maxine B. Rosenberg's Hiding To Survive (1994) will find this an edifying look at the difficulties younger survivors faced in making the transition to peacetime. (Fiction. 10-12) .

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.04(w) x 7.68(h) x 0.29(d)
540L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Vera Propp lives in Albany, NY.

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When the Soldiers Were Gone 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
HomeSchoolBookReview More than 1 year ago
Eight-year-old Henk lives on a Dutch farm with Papa and Mama, Paul and Mevrouw Staal, older siblings Miep and Pieter, and cat Kootje. All he can remember is how he could never go to school with Miep and Pieter, and that every time the mean soldiers came he had to hide in the barn or a dirty clothes hamper. But now that the mean soldiers are gone, Henk is surprised to find out that he is really Benjamin, a Jewish child who was hidden from the Nazis, and that his true parents, David and Elsbet Van Sorg, have come to take him away with them. Will Henk, now Benjamin, be able to make the adjustment to a new family, a new home, and a new life? And how will he start? Based on a true story, much of the background for the plot is told in flashbacks, when Elsbet talks with her son and memories from his early childhood gradually return, including the yellow star on his coat and a frightening encounter in the park with a Nazi soldier who came out of his position and tried to hurt him. When the Soldiers Were Gone is a very moving account. With its use of simple language and the historical facts which are successfully integrated into the narrative, it is a great, age-appropriate introduction to the Holocaust and World War II for pre-teens.
AbbyHensley2ndperiod More than 1 year ago
This is about a story where a man goes on a business trip. He is going to Transylvania. He has a very wierd horse ride to the castle. When he arrives he is greeted with the counts waiter. He is taken into the house and fed dinner then sent to bed. The next day when he wakes up he don't see anyone in the castle. Then later that evening he meets the count Dracula. As they have dinner they talk about business. The count informs him that he will not be able to join him that evening. Later on as the story goes the man is captured and is not let go. He writes a lot of letters to his wife and friends back home. He finds out where the count goes every night. He goes and kills people. At the end of the story he kills Dracula and is set free. He returns back home to his friends and family. It was a really great story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My son checked this book out from the school library after his teacher read it to the class. It touched him deeply and was a good story to help younger readers begin to understand what happened during the holocaust. I would definately recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read a book on that time period and during the war and things such as that for our book report. There were lots of different choices and I wanted something short- so I chose this one. I was right, it was really short I read it in less than an hour. It was good, sometimes sad, but in the end it turned out ok.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When The Soiders Were Gone is a good book i did not know it was real.intil the end it was sortofe sad and is cool and gets neater as you go on. the more you read it.so find it and read it to find out what happens in the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After the Nazi Soldiers are gone Henk dicovers many thinks he didn't know before. He discovers his mama and papa he loves aren't his parents.He must now go live with these people he meets at his house,will he be able to adjust to his changes in the city. These are know his real parents.