This is a unique work. It is one of the first books written for young readers describing the early days of the event that has since come to be known as the Holocaust. Originally written in Yiddish in 1938, it is one of the most accomplished works of children's literature in this language. It is also the only book for young readers by Glatshteyn, a major American Yiddish poet, novelist, and essayist.
Written in the form of a suspense novel, Emil and Karl draws readers into the dilemmas faced by two young boys--one Jewish, the other not--when they suddenly find themselves without families or homes in Vienna on the eve of World War II. Because the book was written before World War II, and before the full revelations of the Third Reich's persecution of Jews and other civilians, it offers a fascinating look at life during this period and the moral challenges people faced under Nazism. It is also a taut, gripping, page-turner of the first order.
About the Author
Born in Lublin, Poland, Yankev Glatshteyn (1896-1971) was one of the major figures in the burgeoning Yiddish literary scene in New York City during the first half of the last century.
Jeffrey Shandler (translator) is an associate professor in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust and editor of Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust, among other books. He lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
Emil and Karl
By Yankev Glatshteyn, Jeffrey Shandler
MacmillanCopyright © 2015 Yankev Glatshteyn
All rights reserved.
Karl sat on a low stool, petrified. The apartment was as still as death. He looked at the pieces of the broken vase scattered on the floor. Several times he reached out with one hand to pick up an overturned chair lying beside him. The chair looked like a man who had fallen on his face and couldn't get up. But each time Karl tried, he could only lift the chair up a little bit, and then it fell down again.
It was even quieter in the kitchen and the bedroom — so quiet that he was afraid to go in there.
It wasn't that Karl minded being in the apartment by himself. He'd been left alone there more than once before; he could even go to bed by himself without being afraid. He wasn't scared of spooks or devils. Instead, he loved to stare, wide-eyed, into the darkness and make up stories.
When he went to sleep he knew that eventually he would see his mother emerge from the darkness, together with the morning. Karl didn't know where the night came from. Lying in the dark with his eyes wide open, he'd make up a story — and then suddenly he'd see his very own eyes, wide open in the light. That's how it seemed to him sometimes — that he was looking through the darkness and could see his own eyes.
But the eyes belonged to his mother, who came in with the light.
"Karl, you lazy bones, how long are you going to sleep? Get up. It's already morning. You'll be late for school."
"Mama," he whined, "Just a little more, just a little bit."
"No," his mother answered in a firm voice, but her laughing eyes made it clear that she wasn't really angry. She went straight for the blanket and uncovered his feet. The cold air felt both good and bad on his warm feet.
"Mama," he whined again, as his feet searched for the warmth of the blanket, "give me a kiss. I won't get up without one."
"It's about time a big boy like you stopped begging for kisses," his mother scolded, still pretending to be angry, and she tickled the soles of his feet.
"A kiss! A kiss!" he insisted, until he felt his mother's embrace.
No, Karl wasn't afraid to be alone, but now he was afraid to move. He felt a chill at the thought of the narrow kitchen and the little bedroom. It was so quiet in there, much quieter than it was here by the overturned chair.
That was because just moments ago the chair had been knocked over, and the vase broken into smithereens.
It had all begun with a struggle in this room. Three big, hulking men dragged his mother away from him. Her screams could be heard outside, but no one came to help. One of the men searched their apartment, taking a few books and pamphlets, while the other two held his mother tightly.
She struggled, she spat in their faces and kept screaming, "Murderers!" Her blond hair came undone and fell in her face, covering one eye. But now her other eye seemed more powerful than both of those strong men put together. Karl could see all her strength in that one eye, blazing with rage.
The man holding the books didn't move a muscle. But then Karl bit one of the other men on the hand, making him scream with pain. Then the man with the books punched Karl in the stomach so hard that he fell down, taking the chair with him. He saw stars before his eyes. Everything went spinning around and around, and he was in so much pain that all he wanted to do was shut his eyes. But then he heard his mother screaming even louder, and that made him feel braver,
"Murderer! You hit him, too? Let me see my son! Aren't you going to let me say good-bye to my son?"
With her last ounce of strength she freed her left hand, which was clenched into a red fist. Quickly, like a cat, she scratched at the face of the man who was trying to restrain her, tearing his skin.
A thin trickle of blood ran down his face — then more and more, until his face was completely covered with blood. The man wiped his face with a handkerchief; Karl's mother was already on the floor where the boy lay, doubled over in pain. She kissed him quickly, trying to give him as many kisses as she could before they took her away.
"This is for tomorrow! This is for the day after tomorrow! And the day after — Karl! Karl! They're taking me away — who knows when we'll see each other again!"
Karl could taste the tears that streamed down her face.
The two men grabbed her even more roughly than before and shoved her toward the door. As they dragged her away, the vase fell from the cupboard, and pieces of it flew all over the house. One piece hit Karl in the face.
The two men held their hands over his mother's mouth, but he could still hear her screaming in a muffled voice, "Karl! Karl!"
The third man, the one who had the books and pamphlets, kicked Karl's leg and said, "Just wait, you little bastard, until we come for you."
* * *
Suddenly it seemed to Karl that the stillness in the kitchen and the bedroom was more frightening than anything else. Even if he were to stay where he was for the rest of day, and the next day, and the day after that, everything in the house would still be quiet — because his mother, his beautiful mother, would no longer be there.
That's why he lifted up the overturned chair and let it fall back down again — because it had been a part of his mother's struggle, and the pieces of the broken vase reminded him that she had only just been there, showering him with her tears.
He heard someone call him, and he shivered with fear. Someone was right there in the apartment, but he was afraid to lift his head.
"Karl! Are you hungry?"
He realized it was the voice of one of their neighbors. He looked up and saw old Frau Gutenglass. Her eyes were red; she looked terrified. As she waited for him to answer, she kept glancing back at the door, which she had left open.
"No." He answered very quietly, because her fearfulness made him feel scared.
"Come into our home!"
"No," he whispered again and touched the overturned chair.
"Is my mother ever going to come back?" he asked Frau Gutenglass suddenly, in a loud voice. That's what he wanted to ask her — not when she was coming back. He wanted her to give him an answer. But Frau Gutenglass began to weep quietly, and she ran out of the house, shutting the door behind her.
And then Karl remembered what the man who took the books had said to him — "Just wait, you little bastard, until we come for you."
He jumped up from the stool.
It was time to run away.
"But where?" he wondered.
Run away! He stamped his foot, which is what he always did whenever he was angry or wanted to get his way with his mother.
"Karl! No more stamping your feet. It's terrible!"
Run away! He stamped his foot again — this time deliberately — and ran into the kitchen.
It was eerily quiet in the kitchen, just as he had imagined, and in the little bedroom the silence was truly terrifying. He opened the closet and smelled the familiar fragrance of his mother's clothes. There was her coat with its fur collar, which tickled his face when she came home from work and bent over to see if he had gotten dirty while playing with his friends outside. There was her yellow hat, which looked like a huge flower in full bloom. She wore it tilted to one side, so that it showed off her hair. And there was his mother's robe, with the beautiful scent of her lilac perfume — just like lilacs in bloom, only warmer.
A pair of red slippers lay beside the bed, along with a pair of black shoes with high heels, standing up on their own. It's so nice in here, Karl thought, as he lifted up one of the slippers. Then he put it back, even with the other one, so that they would be ready. He often saw how his mother stuck her feet out of bed and slid them right into her slippers.
Suddenly he remembered that earlier he had been eating an apple. Where was it? In the kitchen. He'd taken it as he walked through the kitchen, but he couldn't remember exactly when. All he remembered was that he'd been munching away on it and got little pieces of apple peel all over the room.
"Karl, how many times have I told you not to do that? Your mother works hard all day long, and now she has to follow after you and pick up all the little bits of apple peel that you've spat out."
He felt a pang of sadness, realizing that now he could go around and spit out as much apple peel as his heart desired, and no one would be there to scold him.
Karl bent over, and, for the first time, he began to cry. He wept quietly as he picked up the pieces of apple peel from the floor. He picked up one piece that had fallen right on the toe of his shoe. He spat lightly on the shoe and polished it with his sleeve. Then he carefully disposed of the bits of peel in a paper bag that stood near the kitchen.
It's time to run away from here.
But where? To Emil's. Yes. Go see Emil, that's the best thing to do.
Even though he opened the door without making a sound, Frau Gutenglass heard it right away. She cracked open her door, timidly poking her head out and whispering, "Karl! Where are you going? Are you hungry?" Her kind old face pleaded with him, and he was sorry that he felt he couldn't tell her his secret — that he was running off to Emil's. No one must know.
"No, Frau Gutenglass, I'm not hungry," he answered cautiously, so as not to let her know where he was going.
They heard steps coming from the ground floor. Frau Gutenglass slammed her door shut.
Karl ran all the way down the stairs in one breath.CHAPTER 2
It was a cloudy day. The sky threatened to rain. It was almost spring, but the weather was cold and damp, as though it were late autumn, right before the start of winter.
Karl ran out of the building wearing a light jacket, and the cold went right through him. Even though he had just turned nine, he already knew how to take care of himself very well. Since his mother went to work, he had learned to do everything that she told him. And because he did exactly as he was told, he eventually escaped the watchful eyes of the women in the neighborhood.
Of course, Karl knew full well that he could catch a cold; still, he didn't want to go back upstairs to put on his heavy coat. Someone could be coming to get him, and he might arrive just at the same time. Perhaps it would be the same man, the one who had punched him in the stomach.
Anyway, Karl knew that he would only have to run for a few blocks, then go up to the fourth floor of a dark building, and he would be at Emil's.
Karl hadn't seen his friend for two weeks. Emil was in his class but had stopped coming to school. On the first two days that Emil was absent Karl visited him faithfully, but then Emil's mother asked him not to come over any more.
"You mustn't, Karl, do you understand, you're not allowed to play with Emil. It will only make trouble for us. You're a sensible boy, Karl, please, don't come here any more, try to understand."
That's what Emil's mother had said to him. But Karl didn't want to be separated from his friend, and he talked about it with his own mother. She told him that he could do what he wanted. She explained that Vienna wasn't the same city that it used to be, but that things wouldn't be like this for long, because it couldn't last. Emil was a Jew, and lately things were much worse for Jews than they were for other people. Jews were being beaten, they were robbed, and their children weren't allowed to play with the others.
"But you, Karl, you can do what you want. I can't order you not to play with Emil, just as I can't force you to go ahead and play with him."
Karl told his mother that the children in school teased him about Emil, they hit him, and they even threatened to kill him if he wouldn't stop being friends with Emil.
"You see, that's what it's come to, Karl," his mother said. "You get hit because of Emil."
"Emil's my friend, and I want to play with him," Karl said, stamping his foot, as he always did when he decided to do something.
"Since you've already made up your mind, let me tell you that's just what your father would have done." His mother's eyes became teary. "And I would do the same as well."
Whenever Karl was reminded of his father, a strange feeling came over him. His father! He had barely known him. His father had died more than five years ago. Karl knew that his father had fallen while fighting for the workingman, in the bloodbath started by Hitler.
"Bloodbath ..." "Hitler ..." He didn't remember exactly where he'd heard these words, but they were engraved in his memory. His father died a hero — he knew that, too. But what's a hero? Karl knew the answer to that from his father's photograph, which hung in the bedroom: a tall, thin man with unusually long hands, smiling eyes, and closely cropped hair. He looked very young, and as Karl grew up, his father looked more like the boy's older brother than his father.
Whenever someone mentioned his father, Karl froze. But this soon passed, and then a warm feeling pulsed through him, the way he usually felt for someone alive.
It was enough for Karl to hear that his father would have acted the same way. That must have been what had brought him back to see Emil. But then Emil's mother wouldn't even let him in the door. Again she pleaded with him not to come back, because the neighbors were making their lives unbearable.
"It's better not to, Karl. You'll have to wait, maybe things will get better."
Emil stood at the door and pleaded with him. "I get beat up because we play together," he explained to Karl with a tremble in his voice, hoping his friend would not be insulted. "It's even worse when I go out in the street."
"Don't be angry, Karl. Your mother will understand," Emil's mother had told him.
Karl started to walk slowly. He was already very close to the building where Emil lived — but what if Emil's mother still wouldn't let him in? He walked around the block a few times. The thought almost stopped his heart from beating.
But they'd have to let him in now. He didn't have anyone else. Now he was a Jew, too. After all, he'd been punched in the stomach so hard that he could have died. They took his mother away from him. He was all alone in the world. How could Emil not let him in now?
But Karl still didn't have the courage to go up the stairs. He was terrified by the idea that they might shut the door and leave him standing outside once more. Karl decided to wait until he felt less afraid. He walked past their building one more time.
Then Karl got very upset, because he realized that he hadn't brought his father's picture with him. He became even more upset when he realized he had been in such a hurry that he hadn't even taken one last look at it. That was much worse than not bringing his coat. Soon one of the men who had taken his mother away would show up and go through their house. He would take away everything, even the picture of Karl's father.
A boy was rolling a small barrel down the street. Where did he find that beat-up old barrel? Karl wondered. The postman, with his thick, gray whiskers, walked by slowly, so slowly, as if he were moving backward. It was the same postman who went past Karl's house twice a day. Another boy, someone he knew, ran by, shouting "Hey, Karl!" Then he saw a man hammering a piece of iron — it wasn't clear to Karl what it was — banging on it harder and harder in a wild rage, as though the metal made him angry for forcing him to work.
The first boy came running back, rolling his barrel, which had lost one of its hoops and was about to collapse.
"Vienna isn't the same city that it used to be," he remembered his mother saying. He looked around to see what had changed. The postman was still walking backwards.
Then Karl remembered his great secret. It was so special and so secret that he wasn't even allowed to tell his mother. That's what his teacher had made him promise when she told it to him — never to tell anyone, not a single soul.
It had been during those first days, when everything started to change for the worse. Their teacher suddenly changed the way she spoke and began saying all kinds of strange, wild things. She was an older woman, with a calm manner and a gentle, peaceful voice. She would never get upset; she'd smile even when the whole class misbehaved.
But best of all was the beautiful way that she spoke. Karl, who liked to make up his own stories, loved to listen to her melodious voice. Even when her students didn't understand what the words meant, her voice went straight to their hearts. Karl loved to think up stories and imagine how they would sound in her musical voice.
Excerpted from Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn, Jeffrey Shandler. Copyright © 2015 Yankev Glatshteyn. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This short book came out around the same time as "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", on the same topic (Holocaust), but this book is so far superior as to make the other an insulting farce. It is easy to love these two boys and the courageous and loving people they meet, and at the same time understand the horror of what is happening to them all.
Emil and Karl are nine-year-old friends in Vienna. After the Anschluss (1938), the situation becomes graver every day. Karl¿s father has already been killed for being a Socialist. The book opens with his mother being dragged away by the authorities. Although a neighbor offers to help him, he runs to Emil¿s apartment. Emil¿s father has just been killed, and his mother suffers a breakdown while sitting shiva. The two are now on their own in the city¿hiding in a basement, relying on adults who offer them food and refuge and eventually getting on trains out of Vienna to England with other orphans on the Kinder transport.The book is a story of friendship, a historical fiction about Vienna, and an exciting and emotional suspense story. Although Karl is not Jewish, he sticks by his Jewish friend Emil. He defends him in school while others are beating him and spitting on him. His teacher secretly tells Karl how proud she is of his behavior, but must berate him in public because everyone is so afraid of the brown shirts. Graphic, vivid descriptions of Jews cleaning the streets and being made to act like animals in public parks are seen through the boys¿ eyes. The reader feels their urgency has they run from hiding place to hiding place. They meet adults who are either resisting the Nazis, cooperating with the Nazis, or trying to stay under the radar. As the boys are lining up to get on the trains, they are separated, so it is unclear what happens to them. This leaves the reader with a glimmer of hope that they will reunite and be happy and safe.While the story of the boys¿ friendship and their rapid coming of age are touching, the descriptions of anti-Semitic activities in Vienna may be too vivid for middle grade readers, who could relate to the boys in terms of age and interest. If this book were read by those younger than fourteen, parental directive is strongly encouraged.
Great story! It was written during the actual time period. The story is quite emotional and heartbreaking dealing with the boys and their struggle dealing with this new world order.
In the early days of the Second World War, Karl and his friend Emil find themselves abandoned in Vienna. Emil's family is Jewish, his father had been killed and his mother so traumatised that she is taken away. Karl's father has already disappeared. He was a Socialist and therefore a threat to the Nazi regime. This interesting story was first published in 1940, and so preempts some of the more 'familiar' stories about the Holocaust at its height. This is the forerunner of all that.
I rated this book a 4 because once you read it you'll love the beginning but towards the end it just gets boring. The days go by almost the same and nothing thrilling or exciting happens. But it is a very good story if you enjoy books about World War II. Not so much about the Holocaust though but you should ptobably get a used one because you won't read it more then once. Other than that its a very sad but important tale of two boys in Germany during the Nazi invasions