Esfir Is Alive
From a young age, I’ve always loved reading books about the Holocaust. As a child, I devoured WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT and researched through countless encyclopedias to learn more about how such a terrible event came to be. I was definitely afraid of the Holocaust, nevertheless, I devoured any kind of literature that focused on World War II and the events surrounding it. So you can imagine how I happy I was when I found out that there was a recently published young adult novel talking about this topic in a historically accurate context.
"Telling the story through the eyes of a child brings an incredible sensibility to the story, and makes the horrid reality of the Holocaust understandable for anyone to see."
Before diving into my reading, I decided to read about Simon’s research that lead to her actually writing the novel. I thought it was really interesting how she worked with people from Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, to really get an expert’s information to write a book about a young girl’s experience based on facts. There were several examples of treatment of prisoners that I remember being shown to me when I went to Yad Vashem myself, so I know that the telling of events in ESFIR IS ALIVE is true (as inhuman they may be). Esfir, as it turns out, is a real girl who survived the Nazi’s systematic murders, and gave a three paragraph testimony to the Soviets in 1944.
Esfir Manevich is a young girl living in Poland before and during Germany’s invasion. The book is actually divided into chronological order: Polish rule, German and Russian occupation (1937- 1941), and German occupation (1941- 1944).
Simon also wrote about something I have never actually read before in the context of the Holocaust: the growing Zionist movement. She explained it so clearly and divided the different political Jewish groups extremely well. I felt that I was learning about the Jewish identity in the twentieth century well --- more than I was expecting --- even though this is a piece of historical fiction. She did it sensibly, introducing characters like Mendel, a young Zionist who ends up making the journey to Mandatory Palestine. She also shows how difficult it was to be a Zionist during that time. Esfir, for example, did not consider herself more Jewish than Polish, yet she was treated like she really was. Putting myself in the place of a child who went through the emotionally and physically traumatizing experience really got the story across effectively.
I was shocked by the contents of this novel, not because anything was heavily described and gruesome (although some scenes were really shocking, namely the rape of a child being briefly described), but actually because I allowed myself to forget that we really did go through a time where all of this was okay. The struggles Esfir has to go through, especially in the latter parts of the book, are something that no child should ever go through. Simon really showed the brutal dehumanizing effect that World War II had on children living through it; Esfir never got to have a childhood.
ESFIR IS ALIVE is definitely an interesting novel to read for anyone interested in learning about Jewish history through a young Polish Jew’s eyes. Telling the story through the eyes of a child brings an incredible sensibility to the story, and makes the horrid reality of the Holocaust understandable for anyone to see.
Reviewed by Rachel D., Teen Board Member on December 1, 2016