Life & Culture

Book review: Fritz and Kurt - A moving Shoah book for older children

Appealingly and appropriately illustrated, a sensitively captured child's perspectives of the Holocaust


Fritz and Kurt (Puffin, £8.99) is Jeremy Dronfield’s re-telling for younger readers of his bestseller The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz. Brothers Fritz, 14, and Kurt, eight, have a happy existence in Vienna until 1938.

Dronfield beautifully evokes their childhood innocence through descriptions of their football games with a bundle of rags, their delight in sticky pastries and their mother’s cooking.

Under Nazi rule, though, Fritz and his father are imprisoned, while Kurt eventually finds refuge with a family in America. Most chapters show Fritz and his father coping with daily life in Buchenwald (and towards the end, Auschwitz) but we do get glimpses of Kurt’s new life in America, where his experiences at youth camp form a striking contrast to the camp his brother is enduring.

Of necessity, some of the brutality of concentration camp life has to be greyed out for this age group (it’s aimed at nine plus).

Given that it’s an impossible challenge to find a balance between terrifying young readers and playing down the horror of the Holocaust, Dronfield has done a good job, never losing sight of his research but sensitively reconstructing some scenes from the facts for the sake of vivid narration.

Since the events of the book really did happen to a child, it’s right that children should be able to read about them — though nine is too young.

Yet I found myself wishing the whole book had focused on Kurt, whose challenges in settling in America — learning the language, making friends — would have been easier for younger readers to relate to, with no need to water them down.

These reservations aside, the narration is extraordinarily touching. The child’s perspective is believable and Dronfield is skilled at using small details to bring a scene home.The book is appealingly and appropriately illustrated by David Ziggy Greene.

At a few of points in the book, basic aspects of Judaism are explained, such as Shabbat and synagogue, suggesting readers are not expected to have encountered Jewish life before.

If this is so, they should be reading something else ­— perhaps Keren David’s This is Not a Love Story or What We’re Scared Of, which depict young contemporary British Jews. One’s first encounter with Jewish life should not be Jewish mass death. Fritz and Kurt is a good and moving book, but one should be at least Fritz’s age, 14, to read it.

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