________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 2. . . .September 15, 2017


To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial.

Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2017.
231 pp., trade pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 978-1-77260-040-7.

Subject Heading:
War crimes trials-Germany-Juvenile literature.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Todd Kyle.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“I wanted to leave,” replied Groening again in a voice that had grown increasingly hoarse. “I asked for a transfer to the front.”

Was it Jordana’s imagination or was Groening faltering under the strain of the trial and the intense cross examination? She hadn’t noticed it before, but he looked decidedly weaker at this point in the proceedings than he had looked in the beginning. His face was haggard, his shoulders slumped, and his hands trembled.

Finally, Thomas gathered his notes together and stood in the centre of the courtroom. “Behind me sit the survivors who are here to testify, along with their descendants,” he said. “I ask you, Herr Groening, did you ever think when you were in Auschwitz that the Jewish prisoners might stay alive and eventually have their own children?”

Groening shook his head and closed his eyes. When he finally responded, his voice was faint. “No. Jews did not get out of Auschwitz alive.”


In this true account, Canadian university student Jordana Lebowitz travels to Germany to witness the 2015 war crimes trial of former SS member Oscar Groening who acted as “the bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, confiscating and liquidating prisoners’ valuables before they were gassed or sentenced to hard labour. Focussing on a series of late-war transfers of Hungarian Jews, the trial brings out mixed emotions in Jordana and the group of Canadian Holocaust survivors she accompanies, people with whom she weaves a tight bond. Lebowitz returns to Canada where she remains active in Holocaust remembrance, learning months later that Groening was eventually convicted.

     The book is a compilation of author Kathy Kacer’s account as recalled by Jordana, excerpts from the blog Jordana was writing for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre at the time, and re-created excerpts from Groening’s testimony (no transcript of the trial was produced). While the format is occasionally awkward, and Jordana’s obsession with detail and her own conflicted feelings a tad overwrought, To Look a Nazi in the Eye packs a powerful punch. As usual, Kacer’s narrative flows like the best fiction, and her sense of both human empathy and moral clarity is keen. Focussing on the real stories and feelings of real human beings who lived through the worst horrors imaginable, Kacer keeps the book both an engrossing read and a powerful messenger.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Past-President of the Ontario Library Association.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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