Fishman dramatizes her mother’s World War II survival story in this debut novel.
The Netherlands, 1940. German forces have crossed the Dutch border and are seizing control of the country. The family of 5-year-old Ruth “Tutti” Lichtenstern—German Jews who had moved to Amsterdam in hopes of escaping Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies—attempts to live normally, but the clan soon gets wind from a friend that Hitler has big changes planned for the Netherlands’ Jewish businesses: “First, the firms will have to register,” and once Germans “are in control of the companies, they will ship the Jewish workers and owners to Poland.” Tutti notices changes herself: she is forced to attend a new school exclusively for Jewish students, and she must wear a yellow star whenever she is outside the house. At first, Tutti’s father’s position in the metals industry protects the family from deportation—though it doesn’t save her grandparents, who are collected during a Nazi raid. Despite her father’s efforts to keep them safe, the Lichtensterns are caught on a terrible path that leads them to the Westerbork transit camp. While there, Tutti’s father tells her he’s hidden some money in her doll and that she must keep that fact a secret (“ ‘I promise,’ she told him solemnly. ‘I’ll take care of her…and I won’t tell anyone’ ”). Eventually, the Lichtensterns are sent to Theresienstadt. After the long years of their deteriorating situation, Tutti attempts to keep a vow to her mother: “To always try to do good in the world—by speaking up when you see evil, and by behaving in a way that you know is right.” Fishman tells the tale of her mother’s family with elegance and a great sense of suspense. The choice to novelize the account, rather than present it as pure nonfiction, helps to flesh out the characters in a way that makes them more fully realized on the page. Photographs of Tutti and her family are featured throughout the work, reminding the reader that the events being recounted really happened. While some of the material will undoubtedly be disturbing for younger readers (the book jacket recommends ages 10 and up), the novel expertly captures the gradual creep of government-driven persecution in a way that should help children internalize Tutti’s story.
An adeptly constructed Holocaust work based on family history.