Then by Morris Gleitzman
Felix and Zelda are running away, but they don’t know where to. They’ve escaped off of a train heading to a death camp. Felix is Jewish, but Zelda is not. Her parents are dead though; they were Nazis. The two have been friends for some times. Felix knows that he has to save Zelda no matter what.
They come upon a mass grave of children. An entire Jewish orphanage has been slaughtered. There are still soldiers there. The two are shot at, but run away as fast as possible. The two narrowly escape being rounded up by a farmer and soon find a woman. She’s not found of Jews, but she doesn’t like Nazis more. When the Nazis come to her farm, she tells them they hope they find those kids. She says this all while hiding Felix and Zelda in the pig enclosure.
She brings the two inside the house and dyes their hair. They will have to pretend to be somebody else. Felix will be William and Zelda will be Violetta, named for characters in a book series Felix likes to read. The two soon fall into something of a pattern in their life. Felix meets another Jewish boy who was saved from the orphanage, but he’s angry and full of revenge. Felix tries his best to provide for the little family he has now. He knows he is the one who is Jewish and will get others in trouble. The lady, Genia, has a husband who was forced to work for the Nazis, but he’s coming home soon. She assures the children that he won’t mind if they’re there.
One day Genia and Zelda go off to the market to get something for Felix, but they don’t ever come back.
What I liked
Imagine being a child and caring for someone this much who isn’t even related to you. Felix and Zelda are not related. They’re not even the same age, but Felix feels a duty to care for Zelda and watch out for her. I think it’s really sweet and basically really human of Felix. We as humans are supposed to care for one another that deeply. We’re supposed to worry about what will happen to this other person even if they’re not related to us. We’re supposed to wish the best for anyone we might come across. Felix has that ability more than most and that makes him an admirable character.
I liked that Felix and Zelda did find kindness in the people they came across. They found people willing to go against government orders and harbor them. That takes some guts. It takes guts to stand up for what is right, even if it may be against the law. Legal and lawful are not the same thing.
What I didn’t like
It always surprises me how cruel some people can be. You would think after all I’ve seen and after all I’ve read in my life that this would cease to surprise me, but it hasn’t yet. How could a government sanction the murder of so many people just because of their religion? How could normal, average, people get in on it? How could people go for this?
The heroes during the Holocaust were those who harbored Jews against the law. The heroes were the ones who got people to safety. The heroes were the ones who refused to follow the sick rules imposed by Hitler and his army.
This book may be a fiction, but there really were people like Genia and Felix who helped people despite it being against the law. I don’t really like that the true heroes of this story were vilified during their time.
This is a sweet, but sad, story.
Would you protect someone who wasn’t related to you to this degree?
Do you think we have common bonds as humans that dictate that we should protect each other in this manner?