CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 11. . . .November 15, 2013
Shanghai Escape. (Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers).
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2013.
248 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-927583-10-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927583-11-1 (epub).
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)-China-Shanghai-Juvenile fiction.
Jewish children in the Holocaust-China-Shanghai-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-China-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
"Do you think we 'll ever leave here, Mom?" she asked. The family rarely spoke of the future and Lily had never asked this question before.
Mom paused, her teacup suspended in the air between the saucer and her lips. Then she set it down with a light rattle." I pray every day that all of this will end, and we'll be able to leave," she said somberly. Lily didn't reply. "But we're managing, aren't we, my darling?" Lily nodded. She didn't trust herself to speak. Finally Mom sighed and raised her teacup once more. "What would you want if we weren't here?"
Lily didn't know how to answer that question. She didn't know what she longed for. This was the only life she could remember. What did she really know of toys or presents or new clothes? Finally she stammered a reply. "Nothing, I guess, except maybe to be warm in the winter." It was such a simple wish.
Mom leaned forward and stared into Lily's eyes. "One day, I pray we will live in a place where you are warm in the winter, Lily."
This moving story is based on the true story of Lily Toufar whose family escaped from Vienna to Shanghai in 1938 as Hitler's anti-Semitic laws became increasingly harsh. In spite of the desperation of the Jews ' plight, most countries, including Canada, the United States and Australia, were not willing to provide them safe refuge. Shanghai was the only place to offer them a haven, taking in over 20,000 Jews between 1937-1939.
Once established in their new surroundings, albeit in straitened circumstances, Lily's family initially managed relatively well. But further disruption threatened as occupying Japanese forces strengthened their alliance with Germany and pursued the Nazi persecution of Jews. Jewish families were compulsorily transferred to Hongkew, a rat infested, unsanitary slum where, again, they had to adjust to new levels of shortages and hardships. Later it was announced that they would be transported to an island prison camp that sounded a lot like the concentration camps they had heard of in Europe. As they fearfully awaited this transportation, Hongkew was accidentally hit by allied bombs when American planes attacked the Japanese in Shanghai. But Lily and her family could endure anything as they were together, having hope that the war would come to an end.
Through the innocence of young Lily's eyes, readers experience the horror of her circumstances, which include constant hunger, lack of proper sanitation, fears of arbitrary retribution from the Japanese and extremes of discomfort in the harsh winters. But despite her constant anxiety, happiness still manages to bubble to the surface in a myriad pleasures as she makes good friends, enjoys a small but special treat, finds satisfaction in studies and always experiences the joy of being with her beloved extended family. She even finds humour under dire circumstances, typifying the power of the human spirit in adversity.
Despite the grim background of the historical events, the story being told through Lily's eyes is one of day-to-day courage and hope. It is not easy to recreate convincingly the reality of a child's emotions in such circumstances, but, by using Lily's voice, Kacer's simple style touchingly brings this episode of human history to life. While it reads as fiction with a page-turning plot, a large amount of information is imparted which is supported by a generous supply of black and white family photos, as well as from newspapers of the time.
Kathy Kacer has received many awards and award nominations for her previous books, and this, her eighth book in the “Holocaust Remembrance Series,” furthers her personal mandate to bring awareness of the injustices of this part of world history to young people. Its readability factor, insights, emotions and characterization make Shanghai Escape a magnetic book for readers aged nine to thirteen, as well as a great resource for Holocaust and Remembrance Day studies.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian in Toronto, ON.
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