The truth is something that many of us have difficulty dealing with, as it in some cases will change your viewpoint about certain circumstances that surrounds the life of a person dear to you. There are many who would deny that the Holocaust really happened. The ovens that burned so many prisoners and the showers that scorched and burned prisoners before they were gassed and went to their deaths. The guards who relished in torturing them and the smiles on their faces when they inflicted pain. Anti-Semitic propaganda movements developed to deny the established history of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. A primary publication of editorial style advertisements in college campus newspapers fostered and called for an open debate on the Holocaust. Did the Nazi in fact hate the Jews, or did this result in an organized killing program and not anti-Semitism? The Holocaust really did happen and the truth behind the atrocities was told to me first hand by my grandmother before she died. The branding on her arm, the pain she inflicted when x-rayed, and other experiments described within the pages of this book, really did happen to her and so many others. My friend’s parents in some detail told it to me as you will learn these experiences are hard to talk about and most would prefer tucking them way forever. Markus Simmons’ grandmother, Oma he called her, lived the experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. A project in History class would bring her realities to light but not in a positive way as he was told to create a question and focus on a group project about the Holocaust. Knowing that his Oma lived it made him angry when Vernon one of his classmates decided to find his own truths by becoming what so many others did a Holocaust denier. Markus is excited about this project and has several obstacles to overcome when deciding which group of friends to partner with. Will he partner with the cool or A-list group who want to exploit his grandmother and insist on speaking and interviewing this woman in a nursing facility who is very sick? Will he allow them to question her in her fragile condition knowing that they only care about getting a good grade? The other group are students that have always been his friends and one who has the courage to admit he is gay while the other is an African American girl. Both groups provide their own challenges and Markus is caught in the middle. Dealing with the topic of denial is Vernon whose father insists that it never happened and this young man as you get to know him better is speaking out the way he was told to by his father and never considering the truth or having his own viewpoint.
How far will Markus and the rest of his classmates go to find the truth when someone sees a picture of his grandmother on the home’s website and immediately reveals a hidden and mysterious secret that would destroy his life, his thinking about his Oma and possibly destroy his love for someone close to him for so many years.
His parents are divorced and his father is not in the picture at first and Markus makes some decisions he will regret. Remember he is in the 8th grade and although he seems grown-up his mother seems very regimented in the way she treats him, what she expects from him and when stating he wants to question his grandmother about what happened to her she strongly opposes any questioning until she cannot.
Heather, Mitch and Katherine have one viewpoint about how this research should go as opposed to Barth and Keasha who had their own different way of approaching this report. Vernon’s opposing viewpoints, his insults and rants would take this project to a different level when someone sees his grandmother’s picture and the authorities are at this front door claiming his Oma was not a prisoner but a prison guard. Imagine the impact of this statement and what happens when it spreads like wildfire among the students, nursing home and the media as Markus and his family have to defend a woman that they came to respect, love and adore thinking she was the same victims of torture as the other prisoners.
Markus angers easily and when Vernon says something about his grandmother he ignores his better judgment and gets into a fight hoping someone will come to his defense but his only defense is a suspension from school and speech from both of his parents. How can he defend something he really does not fully know or understand? When Vernon speaks everyone gets angry but when Mr. G. understands his plight, realizes his struggles this amazing teacher is there for him no matter what.
Salida is his mother’s name and when his grandmother relates the fact that she lived it she also relates that part of her died there. How did she live with what she was forced to endure. Markus faces even more obstacles as she side wants him to work with them but instead he alienates himself from his friends, argues with them, insults fly and then his grandmother decides to speak out slowly to him and then wants to speak to his social studies class and tell her story first hand. But, what will be the result and the reaction of the students and will she be able to tell it without getting weaker? With the help of nurse Lucy who was devoted to her and a mother who stands up to the administrator of the home trying to transfer her out, Oma is more than just a prisoner she as some would relate later on was considered a Guardian Angel. Some were forced into the camps to work as guards against their will and one particular higher up enjoyed beating anyone who dared to defy the orders they were given. So, what would happen if one would take a different path and help those in need and in danger of not surviving. Things got worse as the author relates when the Nazi’s realized they were losing the war and their concern for the prisoners stopped.
Hate, discord, mental torture, anger and confusion all plague Markus and the students in his class who are trying to gather what his grandmother would relate as the TRUTH! How far will you go to learn the truth even if it means destroying what you have believed for so long? Author William McCauley raises these issues and much more before all is finally revealed.
As in the book there are many students who doubt that this event really happened and doubt the recorded events and disbelieve the horrific pictures. They attack as Vernon and his father did the facts of the Holocaust by framing this attack on their point of view that is totally biased in the wrong direction. Some think that Jews created this fallacy in order to be pitied and some are hateful anti-Semitic and exploit their beliefs and inflict them on students. But the teacher in this story although conflicted about his Oma, was open minded and supportive. Some even think that Jews created this as a fabrication of for their own means and ends. Six million Jews and more died at the hand of the orders given by a sick man who was delusional and believed he was supreme, superior and would create a perfect race. No one can deny what Oma related about the camps, the showers, and prisoners digging their own graves to be thrown in later at the pleasure of the sadistic guards. No one that has ever seen the documentaries, visited the Jewish Museum or the Holocaust museum could deny what they see. No one can photograph and create pictures of an event so vividly photographed and claim they are false.
Markus learns the truth about his grandmother as his mother and father deal with the authorities, the hidden truth that was hidden from Markus until now and the awakening he would deal with when it comes to how he would feel about his Oma in the future.
Friendships are torn apart as Mitch, Katherine, Barth, Keash, Heather and Vernon each have find their own understanding of the events that they learned about and Markus has to decide whether he can forgive them, himself, his family and friends as well as they him in a story that will bring tears to your eyes as we meet Sarah Goldberg Miller a true Guardian Angel. The author should be applauded for writing this YA book that I feel is geared to everyone at any age. Thank you for writing this book and I was honored to review it. A family that might actually get closer and a young teen that will learn the true meaning of love and forgiveness.
Teachers, study groups, history teachers, parents, clergy, students need to use this book as a guide to understanding the Holocaust, understanding that it did happen and to decide for themselves whether it really happened or not as you read pages 176-178 and hear Oma’s words and picture the scene described in your mind.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine