Once by Morris Gleitzman
Felix lives in an orphanage with a bunch of other children. There is never enough food to eat. One day, Felix gets an entire carrot in his soup. He thinks it’s a sign that his parents are going to come and get him, but he hasn’t seen his parents in almost four years. They owned a bookshop and they brought Felix to this orphanage to hide. Mother Minka was a friend of the family and she hides Felix at a great cost.
Nazis come to the orphanage one day. They go to the library and they take books. They’re Jewish books. They’re burning all the Jewish books. Felix knows his parents’ shop will also be a target of the book burning and determines that he should leave. Along the way he meets Jews being taken to locations unknown to him. He thinks it’s because they’re book lovers.
After a while Felix begins to realize that it’s probably not the books the Nazis hate, but maybe it’s the Jews. He makes it to his parents’ shop, but there’s nobody there. The books are gone and someone else is living upstairs. An old friend tells him that he is stupid to be around. Felix runs again.
He finds a terrible scene. Two people are on the ground murdered along with the chickens. There’s a little girl there and she’s still breathing. Felix takes her away. It turns out her name is Zelda. Zelda and Felix travel together for some time before finally being taken in by a man named Barney, who has taken in other Jewish children. He hides them in the basement and he’s a dentist. One day, they’re all put on a train. Felix, Zelda, and Chaya make a run for it.
What I liked
This is the book where we learn how Felix and Zelda meet. It’s happenstance really. They didn’t know each other beforehand. Zelda was just some girl Felix saw unconscious out in a field beside her dead parents. It takes dedication to find a stranger and take care of them to that extent. It takes humanity to do that. If ever there was someone who was more human than another person, it’s a person who can find a complete stranger and care for them with their life.
Felix managed to use stories to get himself through tough times and that’s a mechanism I’ve used myself. If I can imagine my life as something else, at least just for a time, it makes the present more bearable.
What I didn’t like
The Holocaust is an era that upsets me. It upsets a lot of people actually. It upsets me because I don’t deem a person less because of their religion or their race. Why, or how, could one person look at another person and say, “You deserve to die because you’re XYZ”? It doesn’t make any sense. The last I checked, all of us have the same bodily systems; we all bleed red; we all have skeletons; we all need oxygen and water. How does anything above that make us different enough to deserve to die? If you’re ninety-percent the same, how can that ten-percent mean so much?
To top it off, children were not excluded. What in the heck did the kids do? I know they can be brats sometimes, but there is hardly any kid that is bratty enough that it deserves to die.
I’m glad that Felix found somebody to be with during these tough times and was able to use his stories.
Would you have taken Zelda with you?
Can you imagine if someone decided that you needed to die because you were Baptist? Or Methodist? Or Catholic?