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The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin

The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin

5.0 1
by Susan Goldman Rubin, Ela Weissberger

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Ela Stein was eleven years old in February of 1942 when she was sent to the Terezin concentration camp with other Czech Jews. By the time she was liberated in 1945, she was fifteen. Somehow during those horrendous three-and-a-half years of sickness, terror, separation from loved ones, and loss, Ela managed to grow up. Although conditions were wretched, Ela forged


Ela Stein was eleven years old in February of 1942 when she was sent to the Terezin concentration camp with other Czech Jews. By the time she was liberated in 1945, she was fifteen. Somehow during those horrendous three-and-a-half years of sickness, terror, separation from loved ones, and loss, Ela managed to grow up. Although conditions were wretched, Ela forged lifelong friendships with other girls from Room 28 of her barracks. Adults working with the children tried their best to keep up the youngest prisoners' spirits. A children's opera called Brundibar was even performed, and Ela was chosen to play the pivotal role of the cat. Yet amidst all of this, the feared transports to death camps and death itself were a part of daily life. Full of sorrow, yet persistent in its belief that humans can triumph over evil; this unusual memoir tells the story of an unimaginable coming of age.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"a true and immediate account, rich in detail".
Publishers Weekly
Brundibar, the children's opera that was performed in the Terezin concentration camp and whose story was retold in Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak's recent picture book, gets a unique "behind-the-scenes" treatment here, in a narrative peppered with Weissberger's quotes. Weissberger, a Jewish girl born Ela Stein in Czechoslovakia, played the titular cat in the Terezin production. Ela was one of the few children who appeared in all 55 performances of Brundibar; most of the others died at Auschwitz. With Brundibar performances providing a loose narrative thread, the book follows eight-year-old Ela's family from Kristallnacht to her arrival, at age 11, at the "model ghetto," where she is assigned to a bunkroom of 28 girls. The last half of the book follows the preparations for and performances of Brundib r and its role in the Nazis' deceptive propaganda campaign, as well as Terezin's liberation. Photographs and many of the children's drawings accompany the text (Dicker-Brandeis, who provided the art supplies, was the subject of Rubin's Fireflies in the Dark). An especially harrowing picture called "Summons to Join the Transport" depicts a female guard shining a flashlight on a girl about to be transported to Auschwitz. The book culminates in an upbeat finale: photos depict Weissberger at joyous reunions with her bunkmates (15 of the 28 girls survived), as a new generation of children around the world discover the power of Brundibar. Ages 8-12. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Ela Weissberger was taken to Terezin concentration camp in 1942 when she was eleven years old. She lived there with other Czech Jews for the next four years. She was separated from her mother and placed in a facility for children with caretakers who were also prisoners. These caretakers nurtured their young charges, helped them bond with each other and taught them Hebrew songs and opera. They recognized that Ela and some of the other girls had musical talent. When Rudi Freudenfeld smuggled the piano score of Brundibar into Terezin, the teachers began rehearsals for a musical production. Ela was cast as the cat, a major role. The Nazis invited members of the International Red Cross to view the production in an attempt to convince them that Terezin was a "model camp" for Jews. Thus, the performances were allowed to continue. Ela was the only performer to participate in all fifty-five presentations, as prisoners were constantly coming and going according to the whims of the Nazis. After liberation, Ela and her older sister lived for awhile in Prague, but anti-Semitism was strong there, so they moved to Israel. Following her marriage to Leo Weissberger and the birth of their daughter, her family emigrated to the United States in 1958. Numerous, mostly black-and-white, photographs and some reproductions of drawings and documents contribute to the authenticity and emotional impact of this moving tribute to the human spirit. Listings of resources used, interviews, and Internet sites will aid researchers in finding further information. An index is also included. 2006, Holiday House, Ages 9 up.
—Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
This photo essay is a companion piece to Rubin's Fireflies in the Dark (Holiday House, 2000) and documents the story of Ela Stein, who was sent to Terezin (Theresienstadt), a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in 1942. For most of the three and a half years that Ela was at Terezin, she stayed in a barrack for girls. Ela and the others had some respite from the daily grimness and hunger in the form of art lessons from Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (the subject of Fireflies in the Dark) and music lessons from professional musicians imprisoned in the camp. One of them, Gideon Klein, staged a children's opera, Brundibar, and Ela played the role of the cat for all fifty-five performances at the camp. Ela lived at Terezin until the camp was liberated in 1945, but many other children in the barracks were transported to Auschwitz, where most of them were killed. The brief text is thick with photographs that amply illustrate the narrative, covering the period from 1938 and Kristallnacht to a production of Brundibar in 2003 in Los Angeles. The photographs of Ela's bunkmates are particularly poignant. The writing is smooth and descriptive and the memoir is thoroughly supplemented with source notes and resources in every format from publications to Web sites. An index makes gleaning information easier, but the personal nature of this title makes it a better supplement to the subject than a main resource. Although the format resembles a picture storybook, older students will find Ela's story compelling reading. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades7 to 9). 2006, Holiday House, 40p.; Index. Illus. Photos. Biblio. Source Notes. Further Reading. Chronology., Ages 11 to 15.
—Donna Scanlon
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Rubin first met Weissberger, a Holocaust survivor, at a contemporary production of Brundib r, a children's opera most famous for having been performed by Jewish children imprisoned at Terezin. Rubin was researching Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin (Holiday House, 2000) and Weissberger was there to see the opera in which she herself had acted during her internment. The "Cat" in the title is the part that she played, and this memoir is a result of that meeting. This finely tuned collaboration weaves together narrative and memories into one cohesive story of trauma, friendship, and survival. The clearly written text incorporates countless quotes taken from numerous personal interviews, providing readers with a true and immediate account of Ela's experiences before, during, and after the war. Extensive use of historical photographs, drawings, and primary visual sources brings even greater depth to readers' understanding of the daily life endured by Terezin's children and the importance of the relationships they formed with one another and their caregivers. Rich in detail, yet not overwhelmingly dire, this is a book about remembering, and the importance of sharing one's stories with the next generation, and the next.-Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In February 1942, 11-year-old Ela was sent with her family to Terezin, the Nazis' "model camp" in what was then Czechoslovakia. Despite horrific conditions, she somehow almost thrived, thanks to extraordinary caretaker-prisoners who taught music and art to kids. With other imprisoned children, Ela painted and sang and then starred as "Cat" in all 55 performances of Brundibar, the famous Czech children's opera, presented to inmates and, twice, as propaganda ploys. Intimate friendships Ela forged with the other girls in "Room 28" (15 of whom survived) sustained her then and now. She remains close with her camp friends, speaks to students and is an honored guest at performances of Brundibar worldwide. Graced by wonderful photographs, Ela's own art and other personal memorabilia and laced with Ela's reminiscences, Rubin's title satisfyingly captures an astonishing Holocaust episode. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Holiday House, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
10.00(w) x 9.92(h) x 0.13(d)
800L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Susan Goldman Rubin is the award-winning author of more than thirty-five books for children. Well known in the field of Holocaust studies, she speaks at conferences, in museums, and at schools and libraries across the country on this topic.

Ela Weissberger was liberated from Terezin in May of 1945. In 1949 she emigrated to Israel and later came to the United States, where she married and raised a family. Today, Ela spends much of her time speaking to audiences of all ages about her Holocaust experiences.

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The Cat with The Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Yvonne_M More than 1 year ago
Susan Goldman Rubin ever so eloquently details the life of a young, mentally and physically strong girl during her time in Terezin and beyond. Ela Stein Weissberger was only eleven years old when she boarded a train with her mother, sister, grandmother and uncle for a German ghetto in Czechoslovakia because she was  Jewish.  During her time at Terazin she becomes part of larger family of approximately 28 girls that lived together in Room 28.  The friendships that developed between these girls have become everlasting. Through countless interviews Rubin documents Ela’s experience in her own words. Ela’s quotes are powerful and moving.  This book belongs in every school classroom that studies the Holocaust.  • It provides factual information in an age appropriate way. • It is a model text on how to use interviews to gather information for writing a biography. • As a picture book, it is filled with photos of Ela’s life and her amazing artwork done while imprisoned at Terezin. The strength of Ela Stein Weissberger must be shared, celebrated and admired by everyone!