________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Hiding Edith: A True Story. (A Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young People).

Kathy Kacer.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2006.
151 pp., pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 1-897187-06-8.

Subject Headings:
Schwalb, Edith-Juvenile literature.
Jewish children in the Holocaust-France-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**** /4


"Or be a teacher and make school more fun for students like me."

The two girls wound their way along the sloping hillside, through the narrow streets of Beaumont-de-Lomagen.

Therese brushed back her curly red hair. She has inherited it, and her fair, creamy skin, from Mutti; both made Edith envious. "What's the use of thinking about the future," Therese snapped. "We're just lucky that we can still go to school."

That was true. Edith knew that Jewish children elsewhere were not allowed an education. Still, Edith sighed, "You're so gloomy, Therese. I always think about what I'm going to be when the war is over."

"You must be joking, Edith. The war will never be over."

"How can you say that?"

"Because it's true," snapped Therese. "Because nothing good has happened to us, and nothing will."

In a simple, moving dramatization, Kathy Kacer recounts a true story of the traumatic years of World War II when young Edith Schwalb and her family ran for their lives. They ran from the Nazis, from Vienna to Brussels to France, always hunted, for the crime of being Jewish.

     Edith's lost childhood is a success story. She lived while 1.5 million other Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis. She, her sister and brother lived, thanks to the determination and resourcefulness of her parents, and to the courage of many non-Jews who defied certain death for sheltering innocent people. This book tells Edith's story, but it also highlights examples of the quiet heroism of those who resisted the Nazi reign of terror to help others.

     Edith Schwalb was born in 1932. Her life as a fugitive began in 1938 when her family fled Vienna after Hitler's troops invaded, and they then fled again when Belgium was occupied. In 1941, they ended up in Vichy France where President Henri-Philippe Pétain ran a collaborationist regime. Jews were pawns in exchange for peace. The Nazis arrested Chaim, Edith's father, and her mother was unable to secure his release. Fearing a round-up, her mother arranged for Edith and her younger brother, Gaston, to be taken in to a boarding school, or house, run by a Jewish couple in the town of Moissac. Her mother and older sister went to work as domestics in private homes.

     What was unusual about Edith's and Gaston's stay in Moissac was that everyone in the town was aware that the approximately 100 boys and girls under the care of Shatta and Bouli Simon were Jewish, yet none of the townspeople turned them over to the Nazis. It was a collective secret, which, if revealed, would reveal the betrayer. For about seven months, Edith was educated with non-Jewish children at the local school. She had enough to eat, sang in a choir and felt secure.

     But the Boulis were aware that the situation could change at any time. The house was supported financially by the Jewish Scouts of France (Eclaireurs Israelites de France), and the children were continually taught camping and survival techniques in case the Nazis came looking for them, an action which finally did happen. The children vacated the premises on short notice and spent days camping in the woods, waiting for word that it was safe to return. When the house was forced to close, Edith first went to live in a boarding school under a French pseudonym and then later with a farm family who protected her until the occupation was over.

     Life was difficult for the family after they were reunited (Edith's father died right after the concentration camp he was in was liberated), and in a gesture of support for her mother, Edith took her brother and returned to the place they had felt secure and loved for a brief time, the house in Moissac where she remained until 1949. She later married and moved to Canada.

     Kacer's account of Edith's life is crafted gently for young children, yet she includes mention of the horrors that people were only hearing about during the war. She has fictionalized portions of Edith's stay in the house in Moissac through interviews with other residents at the time. Most importantly, from a child reader's point of view, Kacer has included the complicated emotions - the worries, the fears, the loneliness that Edith felt as she grew up in this dangerous time. Kacer also includes incidents that display the sense of resolve and maturity that Edith developed, skills that helped her survive.

     Children will relate to Edith who felt abandoned by her mother in Moissac, the gnawing in her heart as she worried about her father, and her own sense of bewilderment at being branded for her ethnic heritage. Every child reacted differently to their experience; Edith did her best to hold herself and her friends together, but often is was a thin façade:


 Edith tried to cheer Sarah by appearing lighthearted; but deep inside she was as sad as Sarah. Hiding like this was so much harder than hiding in Moissac or in the woods during Camp Volant. Here, Edith had to hide who she was. She knew there was no way to pull Sarah out of her despair and didn't have the energy to keep trying. Besides, lice and dirt seemed minor problems compared with hiding your identity - and starving.

     Pictures of the family, the schools and some of the outrages perpetrated by the Nazis are sprinkled through the pages of the text. At the end, photographs show a reunion held in 2004 to honor the Simons and the brave citizens of Moissac whose actions saved the lives of hundreds of children.

     Hiding Edith, along with the others in the “Holocaust Remembrance” series published by Second Story Press, should be part of every elementary school library collection. They should be taught not just as lessons in history but also as lessons that relate to events taking place right now around the globe. In a world where genocide still occurs, children should be aware that they can make a difference in a variety of ways, perhaps different than in World War II, but that the lesson of the Holocaust - Never Again - is dependent on them.

Highly Recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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