Review: Harboring Hope: The True Story of How Henny Sinding Helped Denmark's Jews Escape the Nazis

Harboring Hope: The True Story of How Henny Sinding Helped Denmark's Jews Escape the Nazis

by Susan Hood

HarperCollins, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Meira Drazin

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Toward the end of Harboring Hope there is a quote attributed to the Israeli-Danish journalist Herbert Pundik: “About 99 percent of the Jews in Denmark survived while 98 percent of Poland’s three million Jews perished.” Harboring Hope is the story of how the Danish people saved the Jews of their country. The nonfiction middle grade book written in free verse is anchored by the story of 22-year-old Henny Sinding, who with the crew of the small but intrepid Gerda III, successfully smuggled more than 300 Jews across the water to Sweden— ten to fifteen men, women and children at a time in the fish hold.

The breadth and extent of research, including oral testimonies and other primary sources, is ambitious and expertly integrated, not only into a cohesive and riveting story, but also into free verse along with breaks into several other poetic forms. The use of free verse in particular lends the nonfiction aspect a punchiness, making the material age-appropriate, digestible and lively. The sporadic use of other poetic forms including ode and elegy, as well as shape, abc, sensory, and list poems, give emphasis, spotlighting specific incidents and thereby giving them greater emotional depth such as the list poem “So Many Lives, So Many Stories.” More information about the use of poetry is found in the back matter along with a bibliography, additional information, further reading, and photographs.

Harboring Hope is a wealth of information about a country not often discussed in reference to the Holocaust. Dispelling the myth that Denmark’s King Christian X along with all his countrymen wore a yellow star in solidarity with the Jewish citizens, Hood explains that Danish Jews never wore a yellow star. Until the decision to deport all the Jews in October of 1943, the initial Nazi occupation was delicately balanced between what the Danish citizens would accept from their occupier. I was particularly impressed by how the narrative was structured, at times taking a wide lens to tell about what was happening in other occupied European countries, then narrowing it to Danish culture as a whole and its policies and thoughts about the individual. The lens continues to widen and narrow, showing Danish people’s and institutions’ reactions to Nazi occupation, as well as several first hand accounts from members of the resistance as well as Danish Jews—including Herbert Pundik. Henny’s story of bravery and humanity is a thread woven and sewn throughout.

Harboring Hope is an impressive feat of writing and research and I was struck by the lyricism and imagery, Hood’s ability to choose uniquely illustrative examples condensed down from so much information, and the overall sensitivity and empathy in telling the story of Denmark and its people, and Henny Sinding. Of Denmark’s 8,250 Jews at the start of WWII, 7,742 people— including 1,376 stateless Jews who’d been refugees from Germany— plus 686 non-Jewish family members were saved. How necessary to have a true story of hope, as well as of collective and individual resistance to antisemitism. Harboring Hope is an essential addition to any library and for any child (and adult) who enjoys nonfiction, history or a story about courage and morality in the face of evil.

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Reviewer Meira Drazin’s debut middle grade novel Honey and Me was the recipient of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Middle Grade Honor and a Kirkus Best Middle Grade Books of the Year selection among other awards and recognitions. Meira reads widely in many genres, but in particular middle grade and YA, and she is a strong advocate for Jewish education, both formal and informal. She has been a freelance writer for Jewish media and parenting magazines and has an MA in English and Comparative Literature. Originally from Toronto, Meira lived in New York for many years and now lives in London with her husband and four children. Find out more at