CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 23. . . .February 16, 2018
Don’t Tell the Enemy.
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2018.
184 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $8.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4431-2839-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4431-2840-7 (ebook).
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Cameron Ray.
By mid-summer, the commandant must have felt that he had complete domination of our town, because he sent most of his soldiers to the front in the east. In their place came a group of German administrators: officer workers, managers, nurses, doctors, teachers and police.
These new people were quite different from the Volkdeutche refugees who had already settled in after arriving on the heels of the army. These ones weren’t starving and ragged. They wore good clothing and spoke in a cultured way, and seemed to be on friendly and familiar terms with each other. It seemed that they had worked together as a team before coming to Viteretz.
They were also different from the military, which was nearly all men. This new group included a surprising number of female teachers, nurses and office workers. From the snippets of conversation I was able to hear at the house, I realised that these new people were true Nazi believers.
Don’t Tell the Enemy is a thought-provoking and difficult book, in terms of both its content and its historical themes, and one that I cannot recommend enough. Based on a real-life story, this fictionalized account looks at the Second World War in the Ukraine through the eyes of a young, innocent narrator/protagonist. This is the Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s fourth book about the Second World War. The main character, Krystia, is a young teen who is trying to keep her family together while she watches the world around her fall apart as the occupying Soviets leave her town and are replaced by Nazi soldiers. Krystia is witness to many atrocities, including human slaughter, home invasions, physical violence and starvation. Krystia, herself is not Jewish, but Ukrainian, and at first she does not understand the situation that the Germans are putting her and her extended family into. It is through her job as a servant to a German military leader that she becomes more cognizant of the situation with the Nazis and their treatment of Jewish people and other minitories. Krystia realizes she and her family are threatened and what the fate of the Jewish people in her community will be.
The title refers to the fact that Krystia comes into contact with a vindictive and mean-spirited girl who threatens to tell the Nazis that Krystia’s family has not been abiding by their rules. This infraction occurred when Krystia’s aunt was forced to leave her home and took both her chickens with her. Her crime? All goods and property now belonged to the Nazi regime. Krystia lives for several days in terror, fearing that her mother or younger sister will be taken away from her because of the girl’s threat, their father having died of natural causes the year before. These themes of fear and retribution run throughout the story and set the book’s moral tone. Krystia has cousins and aunts who are hiding in the woods, and she longs to join them but fears the retribution that would be brought upon her family if she just “disappeared”. The novel also shows the tactics and propaganda used by the Nazis to control people. The main character, along with her sister, mother and extended family, believe in freedom and that the murdering of Jews is wrong. Krystia has witnessed the slaughter of Jews and has seen the mass graves; because of this, her family takes it upon themselves to hide three people who were to be sent to Auschwitz under their floorboards, an action which ends in the punishment and tragic killing of Krystia’s mother.
Don’t Tell the Enemy is excellently paced, and the story unfolds at a rate that makes readers want to continue reading. The novel is also shorter which will appeal to reluctant readers. The narrator and all the principlal characters are dynamic and fully-realized. The use of some Ukrainian words throughout the book is a very nice touch that reminds the reader where the book is taking place. It is also interesting to note that Krystia does not come at the world with any bias; she does not dislike or hate the Germans when they arrive, but through her interactions with them, she makes decisions about who are the good people and who are the bad around her.
The impact of Don’t Tell the Enemy is profound as it shows, with realism, the atrocities of the Nazis and their treatment of people during the Second World War, and the impact they had on their victims and enemies. As members of the Ukranian resistance are working together to try to stop the Nazis, they have to do so in extreme secrecy or risk becoming victims. The innocence of the narrator allows readers into the world of someone who initially does not understand what is going on around her. This book does not shy away from the realities of what occurred during the Holocaust, and, as such, it is important reading material for teens so that they can better comprehend this period. Don’t Tell the Enemy is a must-have for any teen historical fiction collection.
Cameron Ray is a Youth Services Specialist Librarian with the North York Central Library.
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University of Manitoba
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