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The Choice

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The Choice
Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers
By Kathy Clark
Second Story Press, (2015)
ISBN: 978-1-9275-8365-4

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 14, 2016

To his best friend Ivan, and to all his school mates, he is known as Hendrik. That is not, however, his real name. His name is Jakob, he's thirteen, and he's Jewish. As the story opens, the year is 1944 and the Nazis have invaded his native Hungary. Long before the Nazi invasion of his homeland, Jakob's dad realized the threat that the family might face if the Nazis ever overran Hungary, so to protect the family he got them all fake identities, moved to a part of Budapest where they were not known, and they began life anew as a Christian family. As Hendrik, Jakob quickly made friends, integrated into a new school, and lived a rather normal life. However, in the back of his mind, he was still Jewish and he missed his aunt and his cousins. Worse, he did not truly understand why it was so important to hide the fact that he was Jewish.

One fateful day, although forbidden to do so, Jakob sneaks into the Jewish Ghetto to his aunt. While in the ghetto he runs into Ivan's father, who happens to be a member of the Arrow Cross Party, a Hungarian Fascists group that was aligned with the Nazis. When Ivan's father asks him why he is in the ghetto, he blurts out that he is Jewish. He says this in the heat of the moment, never once considering the dire repercussions that this confession might cause. In short order, one of his cousins is dead, word has been sent to arrest his family, and Jakob, his aunt and her young daughter find themselves on the first leg of a journey leading to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

In this gripping work of historical fiction Kathy Clark has written a story that give middle grade and teen readers a glimpse into a world where the choices that a person makes can literally spell life or death. The book, aptly entitled The Choice is part of the Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers published by Second Story Press. As the story unfolds, the reader travels along with Jakob in the overcrowded cattle cars of a train carrying Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. There, he goes through a selection, and learns some of the hard facts about his new life in camp where those not killed immediately are simply starved and worked to death. He makes friends in the camp, but not all survive. It is only after the war that we, and Jakob, discover what has happened to his family.

The Choice is geared toward readers in grades six-eight (ages 9-13), although older readers will also find the story of interest. The horrors in this story are not overly graphic, but they still pack a powerful punch and some reader may find the story painful to read (which in my mind is not a bad thing considering the topic). In the process of telling Jakob' story, the author manages to provide a brief overview of the impact of the Holocaust on Hungarian Jewry, as well as introducing some of the key players such as the Arrow Cross Party, the Kapos in the concentration camp, and the work of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

Complete with period illustrations, The Choice will make an excellent addition to any middle school, junior high, or public library.

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