Review: We Had to be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport


We Had to be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson

Category:Middle Grade
Reviewer: Meg Wiviott

The night of November 9, 1938 made clear the precariousness of life for Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria. World leaders were outraged by the events of Kristallnacht; there were protests and condemnations, but only one country took action. Refugee advocates and Jewish leaders in England convinced the British government to accept more immigrants—specifically children. Over the next nine months, the Kindertransport rescued roughly 10,000 children under the age of seventeen from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Desperate parents put their children on trains and sent them first to Holland and then to England to be fostered by strangers speaking a foreign language in an unfamiliar land, without knowing if they would ever see them again.

This is no bland recitation of facts. Using the voices of twenty-one Kindertransport survivors and five of their rescuers, Hopkinson brings their stories of growing up in the fog of Hitler’s rise to power and the antisemitic fervor of the Third Reich to life. Historic photographs give context and “Look, Listen, Remember” links provide the inclined reader with additional information including interviews with the survivors. An extensive timeline, glossary, and resources are also provided. We Had to be Brave is well crafted and suitable for middle grade readers, but appropriate for older readers as well. A gut-wrenching read for any age. Be prepared for tears.

Non-fiction does not get any better than this. The literary merits are beyond reproach. Like any story documenting the Holocaust, We Had to be Brave portrays horror and sadness, yet there are also true moments of dignity, heroism, and survival. The book will appeal to tech-savvy young readers by providing additional links and references. Though it is solidly a middle-grade book, this reviewer has never read a more succinct and accessible summary of the beginnings of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s rise to power, therefore making this book appropriate for readers well into high school. Hopkinson’s research is impeccable. She uses her subjects’ published and non-published memoirs as well as extensive interviews conducted via telephone and email with the subjects and/or their families. She gives detailed and well researched background information on antisemitism, Nazi book burnings, the Holocaust and Jewish history and includes these resources in the back matter.

This is yet another Holocaust book. But it is an excellent one. It speaks of generosity, faith, and hope, in the face of horrible, unimaginable persecution. It is a story that is timely today as many countries close their borders to refugees fleeing war and persecution, and acts of antisemitic violence rise in the US. For those who argue that we do not need another Holocaust book, I argue that we do. We need as many books as there are survivors left to tell their stories. We need them so the world never forgets.

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Meg Wiviott is the author of PAPER HEARTS, a young adult novel-in-verse based on a true story of friendship and survival in Auschwitz. PAPER HEARTS made the 2016 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults and the Amelia Bloomer lists. It was also a Cybils Poetry Finalist and a 2015 Nerdy Poetry and Novel in Verse Winner. Meg is also the author of the award winning picture book, BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS, which tells the story of Kristallnacht through the eyes of a cat. She holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.