The very first page of this astonishing, harrowing, and heartbreaking memoir by children's book author/illustrator, Isaac Millman, will grip readers. In the middle of the large, stark white page is a 2"x3" snapshot of a little boy dressed in winter gear, standing on the pavement, with a toy car by his boots. Above it is a statement: "Approximately 1,200,000 Jewish children were deported and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust of World War II. Most of those who survived did so by being sent into hiding. Some were hidden with other Jews. Some went into convents and monasteries; others were hidden on farms or taken in by non-Jewish families and individuals. My name is Isaac Sztrymfman, and I was a hidden child."
Turn the page and Isaac's idyllic early world unfolds in a full-color, double-page illustration, done in pencil and soft, sepia-toned watercolors, like a scrapbook with inset snapshot-like paintings of Isaac and his parents in Paris. At the bottom of the page, the mood changes drastically. Against a blood red background is a drawing of the German army parading down the Champs-Elysée, and a portrait of Isaac and his parents, superimposed against the background of a large yellow star. Isaac was a happy little boy growing up with his parents in Paris until the Germans invaded in 1940, when he was seven. As restrictions for Jews in Paris widened, his father was sent to an internment camp. Isaac and his mother attempted to escape to the free French zone, only to be captured by a German soldier and jailed. After his mother bribed a guard, Isaac was first taken to a hospital and then to the home of his mother's friend, who refused to take him in. Sitting, crying, on the sidewalk, he met Héna, a Polish-born Jew like him, who arranged to have him looked after by a series of caretakers until the war ended.
The first-person, dialogue-filled reminiscences about his experiences incorporate a social history of the times and include many of Millman's own black and white photographs. Interspersed between the short chapters are 11 more of his exquisitely detailed spreads, captioned color montages of his memories. Each conveys the wrenching emotional impact of losing his parents and being shunted from one place to the next, but also recognizes the courage of those who took him in, from the doctors and nurses in the children's ward at the hospital to a kind widow in a small village in the countryside who treated him like a son.
In 1948, at age 15, he emigrated to America, one of only three survivors in his extended family. In an afterword, Millman details the fate of his parents, who both died in Auschwitz. In the U.S., he was adopted by the Millman family, went to college, married Héna's granddaughter, Jeanine, and had two children. Readers will be intrigued to compare his own story with the picture books he has written and illustrated, including Moses Goes to a Concert. This will be an important book for the Holocaust curriculum in schools, as it provides a firsthand account of what happened to ordinary people, including children, during World War II. In The Journey That Saved Curious George about famous picture book author/illustrators, H. A. and Margaret Ray, author Louise Borden describes their fortunate escape from Paris to America at the same time.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: AUTOBIOGRAPHY. HOLOCAUST (1939-1945). JEWS. WORLD WAR II.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2005
Suggested Ages: 9 and Up