Museum Fellowship Book Reviews


book cover used by permission of Harper TrophySurviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
Andrea Warren
New York: Harper Trophy, 2001

Reviewed by:
Hannelore Tweed
Camas School District
Camas, Washington


Through the personal testimony of Jack Mandelbaum, Andrea Warren presents a straightforward account of the survival of a teenage boy caught up in Hitler's Final Solution to annihilate Europe's Jews. This valuable edition to Holocaust literature, for 6th to 8th graders, should be in every middle school collection.

True to Mandelbaum's teenage viewpoint, Warren deftly leads the reader to understand life in 1939 before the Holocaust for this twelve-year old boy living in Poland near Danzig within a secure, loving, and prosperous home life. It is not long before Mandelbaum and his family are thrown into the stark world of concentration camps. 

Within such camps as Blechhammer and Gross-Rosen, teenaged Jack learn the rules of survival. "Think of it as a game, Jack," an older prisoner tells him, "Play the game right and you might outlast the Nazis." Telling moments of horror, desperation, misery, and the tricks of survival are told in compelling words. Not only does Mandelbaum vow to survive, but does so due to the friendships of two prisoners. "I believed my family was waiting for me. When this was over, they would be there, outside the camp to greet me. And I would have beaten Hitler at his game."

The story does not end with his liberation at seventeen, but continues as he seeks to find out the fate of his family. "In spite of all the terrible things that happened to me, I did not allow Hitler to make me feel less than human.... My strategy was not to allow myself to hate. I knew I could be consumed by such hate."

With such words of hope and wisdom, students are given an excellent introduction to the Holocaust. This is a well-crafted and unforgettable true story of courage, loyalty, family devotion, and a teenager moving into adulthood during the Third Reich. 

Holocaust educators should consider this book for middle school students who do not have a background in the Holocaust. The combination of Warren's skill in reporting the "whole picture" and Mandelbaum's openness makes this book a classroom teaching opportunity or appropriate for smaller literature circles. The book contains clear type, an inviting format, and is filled with photos courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Chronologically arranged, it also contains an outstanding multimedia bibliography and index. 

For students already familiar with the Holocaust, the book may be too gentle in its presentation. Advanced students may be ready to move on to such books as No Pretty Pictures or Night which contain less introduction but considerable detail, some of which is quite disturbing. There is only one bone of contention concerning this book and it is in regard to the subtitle, "a boy in the Nazi death camps." Mandelbaum was not deported to any of the six death camps of Poland; his experiences were in German concentration camps. This is not meant to demean the suffering that he experienced. It is more a point of accuracy for those who are aware of the difference between a death and concentration camp.

Not only is the book listed by the American Library Association as one of the best of 2001, but it is recommended by Hornbook, School Library Journal and other notable reviewing sources. Truly, this is worthy of inclusion in middle school Holocaust Studies,

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