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The Lost Childhood: A World War ll Memoir

The Lost Childhood: A World War ll Memoir

by Yehuda Nir, Yehuda Nir

A gripping, extraordinary memoir of six years in the life of a daring and resourceful Polish Jewish boy and his family, who survived the Holocaust using false papers and posing as Catholics.

Yehuda Nir was nine years old when his father was shot dead by German soldiers in a mass execution of Jewish men in their Polish town. Yehuda, along with his mother and


A gripping, extraordinary memoir of six years in the life of a daring and resourceful Polish Jewish boy and his family, who survived the Holocaust using false papers and posing as Catholics.

Yehuda Nir was nine years old when his father was shot dead by German soldiers in a mass execution of Jewish men in their Polish town. Yehuda, along with his mother and teenage sister, escaped with the aid of false documents. It was 1941--the Holocaust was gaining a grim momentum. The family plunged into what would be four long, harrowing years disguised as Catholics. Never knowing if each day of hiding in the open would be his last, Yehuda was often forced to separate from his mother and sister, live on dogs and mice, hide in sewers, and live in utter chaos.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
To the burgeoning shelf of outstanding Holocaust memoirs, Nir, a New York City psychiatrist, contributes this stellar account of how he eluded capture as a Jewish boy in Poland during WWII. His story, previously told for adults in a 1989 book with the same title, recalls Louis Begley's Wartime Lies in its rapid chronicling of daring ruses, hairbreadth escapes from Germans and anti-Semitic Poles, and the everyday snares threatening the narrator's attempts to pass himself off as Catholic. At one point, he admires his older sister's ability to "continually mastermind escape strategies that would have made Houdini jealous"; Nir himself appears to have shared that talent. Readers will admire his quick thinking and bravery. The author shifts easily between the perspective of childhood and adolescence and the psychological insights of a rigorously attentive adult. For example, describing his involvement in the Polish partisan uprising that ended in the razing of Warsaw, Nir writes: "Paradoxically, I could cope with this constant onslaught of painful and dangerous experiences at age fourteen, not so much because of my strength but because of the very fact that events followed each other so rapidly. Before I could ponder one situation, I was wrestling with another." Unflinching in his depiction of brutality and suffering, Nir is also empathetic in his acceptance of the feelings of his young self. His book merits and rewards serious attention. Ages 14-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Many Jewish children survived the Holocaust through going underground, hiding with courageous families who risked their own lives to save them. This is the story of one such Polish child who lived through four harrowing years passing as a German Catholic, along with his mother and sister, after their father was murdered by the Nazis. Through such subterfuge as false papers, including the Communion certificate that saved his life more than once, this Polish boy and his family were constantly on the move through different countries with different identities and disguises, survival their only goal. Now an associate professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical School, the author has penned a tale of such horror as to be difficult to comprehend from the viewpoint of middle class safety—the very environment from which he was yanked at the age of nine. This book is hard to put down and should be must reading for adults as well as young people. 2002 (orig. 1989), Scholastic,
— Judy Chernak
World War II is a week old, and nine-year-old Nir and his family of wealthy Polish Jews flee the Germans to seek refuge in Rumania. They are rebuffed, but Soviets, not Germans, take their hometown, so they return. The horrific events that follow comprise Nir's memoir. In 1941, Nir's city finally falls to the Germans, and his father is rounded up and shot. Now aged eleven, Nir sees him marched away. The remaining family members obtain forged baptismal certificates and pass as Christian until 1945, moving from time to time when the gentile cover wears thin. Nir's lost childhood is made up of betrayals, bribes, random violence, lice, casual sex, starvation to the point of finally eating cats, rape, and the omnipresent tension of a double life. One incident stands out as fifteen-year-old Nir wades for hours through the sewers of Warsaw, chest-high in excrement, carrying Molotov cocktails to the Polish resistance. The narrative voice is adult but accessible. Nir says, "I was determined... all the Germans would... pay for their compatriots' crimes. They were all collaborators." He opens with a quote from Samuel Beckett's Malone Dies: "Let me say before I go any further that I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life and then the fires and ice of hell and in the execrable generations to come." To offer a different response to atrocity, pair this evocative chronicle with an adult book that is suitable for teens, No Future Without Forgiveness (Doubleday, 1999) by Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined asgrades 10 to 12). 2002 (orig. 1989), Scholastic, 288p,
— Mary Heslin
School Library Journal
Gr 7-Up In this powerful memoir, Nir describes his Jewish family's experiences in Poland during World War II. Throughout most of the war he, his mother, and sister hid in plain sight as Catholics, ever fearful that they would be unmasked and sent to the gas chambers. The author depicts their lives with incredible immediacy, giving readers a real sense of what life was like for not only the Jews, but also for the Poles. He clearly portrays the harsh treatment of the Polish people by the Germans and Russians, as well as the rampant Polish anti-Semitism of the time. He does not shy away from the brutal realities of his experiences, including details such as seeing men murdered in the streets, a nightmarish trip through a sewer while in the Polish resistance, and the violence and rapes in the refugee camps. Readers enter his world of fear, filth, and hunger; of constant close calls; of bravery and despair; of being forced to bury his true identity until lying became more normal than truth. Unlike the authors of many Holocaust books, Nir was not hidden and therefore was able to observe the war firsthand. He shows the horror that everyone experienced, but Jews most of all, and he does it in an engrossing, readable, if stark fashion that will give readers a new view of an often-portrayed war. This book was first published for adults in 1989 and has been revised for a young adult audience. A painfully honest narrative. -Amy Lilien-Harper, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Yehuda Nir was nine years old, the son of affluent, well-educated parents. Two years later, his father was shot to death in a mass execution of Jewish men. Shortly afterward, as other Jewish families were being rounded up and taken to death camps, Yehuda, with his mother and his teenage sister Lala, managed to get false documents identifying them as Catholics. With these documents-and with the good fortune of looking Polish, and the further good fortune of speaking a non-accented Polish and some German as well-the little family managed to survive while hidden in plain sight, throughout the rest of the war. Originally published for adults, this new edition has been reworked for a younger audience. This story of how they moved from place to place, how the mother and sister both found work as maids in German households, and how Yehuda himself found work as an assistant to a German dentist, is full of harrowing escapes recounted matter-of-factly, as the normal circumstances of a life in which nothing could be normal. By the end of the war, the family had been moved first to a labor camp and then to a farm within Germany itself. There is a chilling description of a Polish fellow-inmate in the labor barracks saying to Lala, "Much as I hate Hitler, we have to be grateful to him for what he has done to the Jews." An epilogue chronicles the lives of the three family members after the war; it will not surprise the reader that they all chose to emigrate. (Nonfiction. 12+)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.99(d)
920L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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