We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
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Must-read true story of courage, heroism, and heartbreak.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The "Look, Listen, Remember" inserts throughout the book include links so readers can learn more about Judaism and actually listen to former Kindertransport children talk about their lives (one remembers growing up across the street from Hitler). The rich "Look, Listen, Remember Resources to Explore" includes links to websites about anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Jewish History, other rescue efforts, and oral histories and articles as well as a Bibliography of books, interviews, and newspaper articles. The dozens of archival photographs that fill the book range from treasured family photos of the Kindertransport children and their families to photos of Nazi Storm Troopers, firebombed synagogues, and mobs burning banned books.

Positive Messages

In the most terrifying of times, some ordinary people have the courage to stand up and help those in danger.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The children who came on the Kindertransport had to be exceptionally brave. While some were teens, others were barely in grade school. Most came alone, leaving all their family behind. They traveled with a few precious possessions to a country where almost none of them knew the language. The book also shares the stories of several of the rescuers, including Norbert Wollheim. In his 20s and newly married, he helped save 7,000 of the Kindertransport children, escorting them to London and then returning to Germany to help another group on their long journey.

 

 

Violence

Children watch as synagogues and Jewish homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals are burned and looted and family members and friends are beaten. They recount the terror of having their homes invaded by armed men who destroyed all the family's possessions. Nazi Storm Troopers march through a town singing, "And when Jewish blood spurts from the knife then all is really well." Some children learn the fate of families who stayed behind: that they died in extermination camps or were rounded up and shot.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Deborah Hopkinson's We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport tells the true stories of some of the 10,000 children from Nazi occupied countries who were rescued and sent to Great Britain during 1938 and 1939. (There are a few mentions of kids who were sheltered in France, but theh focus here is on those sent to Great Britain.) Using interviews, memoirs and letters, Hopkinson paints a vivid and sometimes terrifying portrait of life for Jews in Europe as the Nazis rose to power, the heartbreak of parents making the decision to send their children to safety as they stayed behind, and the courage of children who found themselves suddenly alone in a new country. Synagogues and Jewish homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals are burned and looted and innocent people are beaten and shot. Nazi Storm Troopers march through a town singing, "And when Jewish blood spurts from the knife then all is really well." Some children learn the fate of families who stayed behind: that they died in extermination camps or were rounded up and shot. Although the publisher has aimed the book at ages 8-12, but the violent historical content may be more suited to kids 10 and up. The gripping story and dozens of archival photos make it a compelling and important read for teens and parents, as well.

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What's the story?

WE HAD TO BE BRAVE: ESCAPING THE NAZIS ON THE KINDERTRANSPORT opens as the Nazis start their rise to power and anti-Semitism begins to take a violent hold in Germany. Life for Jewish families (even those who were not religious and felt integrated into their communities) would soon be forever changed. Told primarily through the eyes of the children who would be rescued by the Kindertransport, the book recounts how Jewish families began to be treated differently (and often cruelly) by friends, schoolmates, and neighbors and how intense hatred toward Jews soon became the new normal. Parents lost their jobs and fathers were sometimes arrested and sent to detention camps. Synagogues and businesses were burned as neighbors stood by and watched, doing nothing to help. Students were harassed and threatened by classmates and finally expelled from their schools. By 1938, as Jewish families became desperate to flee, nations (including the U.S.) began closing their doors. But the British government agreed to welcome 10,000 children and volunteer groups began to organize a massive rescue mission. Some children came alone, others with siblings. They were placed with foster families and in youth hostels and had to adjust to a new language, new food, and sometimes life with a non-Jewish family. Communication with the families they'd left behind was difficult or nonexistent and at the war's end, many would learn their entire family had perished in the Holocaust. A back-of-the-book section that shares what happened to the children and rescuers whose stories are told in the book.

 

Is it any good?

Told through the eyes of the children who lived it, the story offers readers a chance to imagine themselves in the midst of an often overlooked chapter in history. We Had to Be Brave also serves as a call for readers to themselves be brave -- to stand up against bullying and hatred based solely on someone's religion or ethnicity and to treat others with compassion and fairness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the lives children in We Had to Be Brave led before the Nazis' rise to power. What similarities did you see between their families and yours? Why do you think it was so hard for Jewish families to think anything terrible could happen to them?

  • There are so many ways today to keep in touch with friends and family who are far away. How hard would it be if you could only communicate with them through writing letters?

  • What happens in your school if someone defends a classmate who's being being bullied or discriminated against? What would you do if someone was bullying one of your friends?

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For kids who love stories of the Holocaust and World War II

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