The true story of the Kleinmann family was first told in the The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz and Jeremy Dronfield has now rewritten this remarkable and deeply moving story for children. Despite the shocking subject matter this book is a tribute to the extraordinary power of human courage and resilience and this important story is, ultimately, uplifting.
In 1938 the Kleinmann family lived in Vienna where Fritz and his younger brother Kurt enjoyed playing football with a bundle of rags in the market square with their friends. Fritz was fourteen and is studying at the trade school so that he can be an upholsterer like his beloved papa, Gustav. His younger brother Kurt who was just eight sings in the city temple choir. Their family life together with their mum, Tini and sisters Edith and Herta is full of joy and love. But this was the time ‘before Hitler came’ as Kurt was to refer to it for the rest of his life. With the arrival of the Nazis in Vienna everything changes for the family as they along with all the other Jewish people are in grave danger.
The family are separated with Fritz along with his papa taken to a Nazi prison camp and Kurt sent across the world alone in search of safety. The book follows the experiences of the two brothers as the months stretch to years with the boys not knowing if they will ever be reunited. Much of the story follows Gustav and Fritz as they are sent first to Buchenwald and subsequently to Auschwitz with Fritz insisting on going with his father. Jeremy Dronfield has managed to convey the events at the concentration camps with great sensitivity, without minimising any aspect of the Holocaust but sparing the detail which would not be age appropriate for his audience.
This is narrative non-fiction which reads like storytelling, using dialogue and extensive research to bring the people to life on the page. In the postscript we learn that the author worked closely with the Kleinmann family, in particular Kurt with whom he formed a friendship, to ensure that the book stays as close as possible to the true events. Kurt’s experiences as a young boy arriving in a strange country unable to speak the language and far from his beloved family will resonate with young readers today. Dronfield also used the diary that somehow Gustav managed to write during his experience in the camps and interviews with Fritz. The black and white illustrations by David Ziggy Greene are quietly fitting for the story conveying much emotion in a few spare lines. The expressions on the men and boys in the camps are particularly haunting.
Throughout the whole book the close bond between the family, in particular between Fritz and his father, provides a sense of hope and optimism that ensures that young readers can also see the positive side of humanity. The kindness shown to Kurt by the family who take him in and offer him a home and education in Massachusetts and the manner in which Fritz and his father and other inmates care for each other and resist the Nazis are all positive aspects. The book is also a salutary reminder of how it is possible to treat people as ‘other’ or different and in a world that today feels hostile towards many this is a valuable lesson.
Fritz and Kurt is a compelling read and an important one. This would be a valuable addition to school libraries and is published to coincide with the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January. There is a free Guide for Parents, Guardians and Teachers providing more information available on Jeremy Dronfield’s website.
If you are looking for other titles covering the Holocaust suitable for this age group I can recommend After the War by Tom Palmer and Anna at War by Helen Peters. Of course the classic by Judith Kerr, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is another worth reading.