Review: The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz

The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz: A True Story Retold for Young Readers

by Jeremy Dronfield

Quill Tree Books (imprint of HarperCollins), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Ronda Einbinder

In 1938 Hitler decides to invade Austria, disrupting the lives of the Kleinmann family. Jeremy Dronfield details the story of two brothers who lived to tell their very different experiences. Kurt, who was ten years old when he was sent to America, was a personal friend of Dronfield and shared his father Gustav’s diary on which this book is based. Brother Fritz is taken away with Gustav to begin years of suffering and survival together. Fritz is given an opportunity to be freed but chooses to go to the most brutal camp of them all, Auschwitz, with his father. Kurt's life is quite different. He is loved by the family who has taken him in, attending camp each summer and celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. Sister Edith is sent to England and is able to keep in touch with Kurt. Mutta and sister Herta’s letters stop when they are sent to a camp where they are murdered. Hitler loses the war and Fritz and his father separately return to Vienna, where they try to begin again. Gustav remarries. Fritz spends his life sharing his experience. In this young readers' edition, Dronfield adds new details that he learned after the original publication. He explains the background of the Holocaust and the unjustified reasons why Hitler and his Aryan nation blamed the Jews for all the world’s problems. His research is impeccable, making you feel as if you are there starving for food and feeling the pain of the characters.

Dronfield brings the reader into the lives of this Jewish family with documented letters and photos, making you feel like you personally know them. This book represents the horrors of the Holocaust while sharing how the Jewish people fought together for survival. Unfortunately, this is the history of the Jews and as difficult as it was to read many of the scenes, it is a necessary part of our kids’ educations. A book like this needs to be in every school library. I think it would be a great read-aloud in schools where teachers could pause and explain the scenes to their students. This story may be better suited for teens to read alone, and middle graders to read with parents and teachers. The photos of kids the same age as the reader show that they were just regular kids playing soccer in the streets and living their lives until it was all taken away. Gustav managed to carry his diary through seven years of torture and many camps and for that his words deserve to be read by children of all religious backgrounds. I recommend the adult version for grown-ups to read as well.

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Reviewer Ronda Einbinder is a teacher/writer currently working on a young adult novel and picture books. She is a reviewer for Goodreadswithronna and a member of SCBWI and 12x12. She is also a 500-Hour Registered Yoga Instructor. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from San Diego State University and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from California State Fullerton.