When his parents are killed in the 1941 Nazi invasion of Poland, 13-year-old Piotr’s life takes an unimaginable turn.
As an ethnic German with Nordic features, he’s “racially valuable” to the Nazis, so he is sent by the Race and Settlement Office to Berlin to be raised by a German family. Piotr, renamed Peter, is adopted by a professor whose work with the Genealogical Office of the Reich determines the degree of racial purity of individuals. Peter is required to join the Hitler Youth, where he is as much an outsider as he was at school in Poland. He falls in love with Anna, eventually joining her progressive family’s efforts to deliver food to Berlin’s remaining Jews. Peter discovers disturbing truths about the Nazi’s treatment of children deemed “life unworthy of life” from his sister, just as the professor discovers that his adopted Aryan son had a Jewish grandmother. Fearing forced sterilization, Peter attempts a harrowing escape to Sweden with Anna and her mother. Dowswell’s skilled narrative weaves its way through flashbacks and several points of view, building in intensity as Peter grows from a child whose life as an “ausländer,” or foreigner, is dictated by chance and circumstance, to a young man whose growing awareness sparks his final, willful act.
An unflinching account of a rarely told side of the Holocaust. (resources, teacher’s guide) (Historical fiction. 10–14)