Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Children’s Books: Auslander by Paul Dowswell

Peter had been living in Poland with his mostly-German parents before World War II, on a farm his mother had inherited from her Polish relatives. When the parents are killed, Peter goes to an orphanage, but not for long. A few weeks later, he is taken to Berlin, where he is adopted by a well-off family, the Kaltenbachs. At first, he enjoys his new lifestyle. The Kaltenbachs are kind to him and everyone admires his blonde, blue-eyed Aryan features.

But Professor Kaltenbach is involved in so-called racial science research, benefiting from experimentation on prisoners, and the eldest daughter, Elsbeth, has a dark secret of her own.

When Peter meets Anna, daughter of parents who are not enthusiastic Nazis and secretly help Jews, he has the chance to assist his new girlfriend and her family in their acts of rebellion. But there will be a terrible price to be paid if they are caught. And meanwhile, the war goes on around them.

Auslander (Bloomsbury) is a well-written novel that has interesting characters -- some based on real people -- and shows what it might have been like to live in wartime Germany, where children denounced parents, schoolmates spied on schoolmates and a word said to the wrong person could get you executed. Even Christmas carols had been altered to include Hitler, while there were swastikas on Christmas trees and dolls’ house wallpaper. The author’s notes at the end assure the reader that even the more bizarre elements of the story are true. There is also adventure near the end, as Peter and his friends flee the Gestapo.

Auslander should appeal to young adults who are interested in Holocaust-era fiction. Recommended.

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