CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2010.
154 pp., pbk., $8.99.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
I shook my head, desperate to clear away the image of Hitler's face. If I'd met Hitler – Hitler himself – then I must be a Nazi. What secret was Marusia keeping from me? Who was I?
My face was wet with tears, but I couldn't remember crying. My legs felt wobbly, so I set the glass beside the sink and sat down at the table.
Marusia walked behind my chair. She wrapped her arms protectively around me and rested her head on my neck.
Ivan knelt beside us.
"Are you all right?" he asked. His eyes were round with fright.
"I was just thinking," I told him.
"You were shouting, 'Heil Hitler,'" said Ivan, a troubled look in his eyes.
"What were you thinking about?" asked Marusia.
"The farmhouse and that family," I said. "but there was more."
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.
"No!" Couldn't she understand how ashamed I was? Marusia insisted that I wasn't a Nazi, but that's not what my memory was telling me. How I wished I could wash away that horrible past.
"You need to air these memories, Nadia," said Ivan. "And until you remember it all, you'll keep on having nightmares."
The tragedies suffered by children and adolescents during World War II have been recounted in fact and fiction in books such as Kathy Kacer and Sharon McKay's Whispers from... trilogy or Carol Matas's Daniel's Story and Greater Than Angels. In Stolen Child, Skrypuch, the author of several other historical fiction novels, treats another group of children who were victimized during the Second World War. As Stolen Child begins in 1950, it initially appears that the novel might be a story like Eva Wiseman's A Place Not Home, one that deals with a postwar immigrant girl's experiences in having to cope with a new country and learning a new language. However, the opening sentences of Stolen Child contain clues that something is amiss with this "family," for Nadia, 12, says:
The woman who said she was my mother was so ill on the ship from Europe that she wore a sickness bag around her neck almost the whole time. The man I called father had come over a year before us.
For the reader, some questions immediately arise, "If Marusia and Ivan Kravchuk are not Nadia's parents, then who are Nadia's parents, and what has happened to them?"
For Nadia, though, her immediate concerns are arriving in Brantford, ON, rejoining Ivan in their unfinished home, and beginning school. Regarding school, Mychailo, another Ukrainian immigrant boy, tells her, "You'll hate it [school]. They'll make fun of you because you're not Canadian." One new schoolmate, in particular, does pick on Nadia and calls her a "Hitler girl" because of her blue eyes and blonde hair.
As Nadia gradually adjusts to her new environment, she begins to experience vivid dreams and have flashbacks that appear to speak to a life she had experienced prior to the five years she spent in a Displaced Persons camp in Europe. Nadia's recovered memories, which are signaled to readers via italicized text, first reveal that Nadia was apparently Gretchen Himmel and that her vater was General Himmel who was connected with the Auschwitz concentration camp, and that she, i.e. Gretchen, and her sister Eva and her mutter had lived on a farm where, Marusia, a conscripted worker, was the family's cook. However, as further memories gradually emerge of an earlier life that Nadia/Gretchen had, she uncovers her actual roots, recalling that, as a five-year-old Ukrainian child named Larissa, she and her eight-year-old sister, Lida, were forcibly seized by the Germans. While Larissa was declared Lebensborn or biologically fit to be "Germanized" and to be placed with a German family as their new daughter, Lida was deemed insufficiently racially pure and was forced to become a laborer. The book concludes with Nadia's stated intent to contact the Red Cross to see what she could learn about her real sister's fate. Personal communication with the author reveals that Skrypuch is writing a parallel story that will feature Lida's experiences.
Although discovering Nadia's true identity is at the core of Stolen Child, Skrypuch seamlessly integrates that story element into Nadia's responses to the challenges of responding to everyday life in a new country. While Stolen Child is a work of fiction, such "child stealing" did occur during WWII, and a concluding "Author's Note" explains the book's origins as well as providing factual information about "The Lebensborn Program," "The Ostarbeiters," or forced labor workers, and "Ukrainian Identity."
Stolen Child is a most worthy addition to the body of juvenile literature about the Second World War, and it is a novel that definitely breaks new ground in terms of its subject matter.
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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