Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Making Bombs For Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

After the Nazis shoot their mother and the Jews she had been hiding, Lida, 8, and her younger sister Larissa, 5, are kidnapped from their grandmother's home in the Ukraine and sent by cattle car to Germany, along with all the other Ukrainian children the Nazis took.

Days later, arriving at a slave labor camp in Germany on March 14th, 1943, Lida's 9th birthday, she and Larissa are forcibly separated from one another, and from this point the story follows only Lida's life in the labor camp.

Told to lie about her age, Lida tells the Nazis she is 13 instead of 9, avoiding what seems to be certain death for the young children.  Because they are Ukrainian and not Jews, the children are treated a fraction better. They are put into barracks with a small useless heater, given two thin blankets for sleeping and fed two meals a day consisting of watery coffee and soup, plus a small triangle of bread made mostly from sawdust. The children are also given Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday off.  The rest of the time, they work, and soon enough, the Nazis weed out the good workers from the ones unable to meet their needs. The weak workers are sent to the 'hospital' never to be seen again. Luckily for Lida, she lands a job in the laundry for a woman named Inge, where the work is hard, but it is at least warm, since she was barefoot, having  lost her shoes pretty early on.

When Inge discovers that Lida can do embroidery, she has her remove the name and initials from clothing sent to her by her soldier husband, and embroider them with hers.  Lida does such a great job, the woman can't help but brag to the head of the camp. Lida is immediately transferred to work in a factory, where the small hands of children are ideal for making bombs. By now, the Germans are losing the war and getting desperate, while the Allies are bombing the area constantly. Lida's one goal is to stay alive so she can find her sister Larissa.

Eventually, the war ends, the Americans arrive and Lida is told that if she returns to her home in the Ukraine she will be arrested as a traitor because of the work she did for the Nazis. She finds herself living in displaced persons camps looking for her sister, and accompanied by a boy named Luka. The story ends in 1951on a much needed hopeful note for Lida.

I have to admit, I didn't know that much about the Nazi treatment of Russian and Ukrainian people sent to Germany to be used as slave labor, although I have always know there were slave labor camps, though my own work never really focused on the Eastern Europe. In that respect, Making Bombs for Hitler was a real eye-opener for me.

And it was a difficult story to read. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch pulled no punches in her descriptions of the deplorable conditions and treatment the Nazis doled out to their enemies. The story is told in the first person by Lida, although given her vivid descriptions, her detailed observations and her rather mature language, I felt as though she were recounted her life between 1943 and 1951. That, however, does not take anything away from the immediacy of Lida's life in the labor camp, if anything it makes it all the more poignant.

Lida is a brave, determined character who feelings of guilt about losing her sister as they arrived at the camp really propels everything she does. She never loses her sense of humanity, and proves herself to be a compassionate, caring friend to the other girls. At one point she gives her cross, a family heirloom, to a Jewish girl named Zenia so that the Nazis will not suspect the truth.

Making Bombs for Hitler is actually a sequel to a book called Stolen Child, which I haven't read yet and hope it doesn't matter that I read them out of sequence. I am curious to continue the story of Lida and Larissa.

The Nazis were so cruel and violent in reality and I feel I should warn sensitive readers that their are some graphic descriptions in Making Bombs for Hitler. But it is also a book that should be read, especially, as I said above, I haven't found another book like it. I know there are a number of books that take place in Russia, including Siberia, but none focus of the Nazi treatment of stolen children the way this novel does, making this an important book for young readers to read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

I read the 2012 edition of the novel, but a new edition will be available February 28, 2017

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Weekend Cooking #29: Victory through M&M's - Happy 75th Anniversary

This year M&Ms turn 75 years old. And one of the things I always wondered about them was why, given all the American and British magazines I had to go through for my dissertation that were published during World War II, I never saw an ad for M&M's (and also, why M&M's had an apostrophe).

So when I walked into my local Walgreen's to pick up a prescription and was greeted with a large 75th anniversary display for M&M's, I decided to finally find the answers to my questions.

M&Ms are made by the Mars company, founded by Franklin Clarence Mars (1882-1934).  Frank contracted polio when he was young and, although he recovered somewhat, he stayed home with his mother, a woman who loved to bake.  To keep Frank busy, she taught him how to make candy.

Eventually he married, had a son, Forrest Mars, and got divorced.  Forrest was sent to Canada to live with his mother's parents.  Frank was beginning to be successful in the candy business, and founded a company called Mar-O-Bar that made a candy bar by the same name.  He didn't see his son Forrest years and by now Forrest was working as a traveling salesman.  He was arrested in Chicago for illegally posting ads on buildings, and his father came to bail him out of jail.

While sitting at a soda fountain and talking, Forrest suggested his father make a candy bar that tasted like the malted milk shakes they were drinking and the Milky Way was born.  Father and son began working together, and it didn't take long for them to become Mars Inc., and to begin producing Snickers and 3 Musketeers bars.

Frank died suddenly in 1934, while Forrest was in Europe with his wife and son trying to establish Mars Ltd there.  While in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, he noticed soldiers eating small pieces of chocolate candy that didn't melt in their hands because they had a hard sugar shell coating. Once World War II began, he remembered those candies from Spain and decided to produce something similar.

In 1939, Forrest met with William Murrie, president of the Hershey Chocolate Company.  Forrest wanted Hershey to provide the chocolate for his new candy and agreed to call them M&M's - M for Mars and M for Murrie, and making the apostrophe a possessive one.  In 1940, M&M LTD was formed and began to produce their version of little chocolate candy pieces coated in a shell that wouldn't melt.
And it didn't take long for these candies to find their way into the soldier's C-Rations in a convenient cardboard tube. And they were quite a hit with the soldiers they were given to. During the war, the candy coating only came in brown, and they were only available to the military, which is why there were no magazine ads between 1939-1945.

M&M's may not be included in C-Rations anymore, but they do still support the military in different ways, as you can see in this 2005 ad:

Today, M&M's come in a variety of colors and kinds, represented by 6 lovable spokescandies.  

And even though they don't really melt in your mouth and not in your hands anymore, they still taste mighty fine. 

FYI: Most of my information Frank and Forrest Mars came from a book called The Mars Family: M&M Mars Candy Makers by Joanne Mattern.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Navajo Code Talkers by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Gary Kelly

Often, when it comes to the history of this country, we focus on the heroic things that people have done to achieve certain ends and overlook things we don't like about them. Our founding fathers fought for America's independence while owning slaves of their own. Settlers braved the elements and other dangers as they pushed across the plains states, towards the west coast, unsettling and fighting the Native Americans who had lived there for centuries, and black soldiers fought valiantly in World War II to liberate Europe from a narcissistic, hate-filled dictator even as they were denied the same equality as their fellow white soldiers.

And sometimes our many heroes simply go unsung. But in this picture book for older readers, J. Patrick Lewis introduces us to a group of real true-life Navajo heroes of World War II. He begins by giving a little background history. The Navajo had lived for generations in the four corners where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet, calling their land Dinétah. But in 1864, they were removed from their homes there by the United States government, and marched 350 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico.  Forever known as "The Long Walk" by the Navajo, it cost many Navajo their lives. It was four years before they were allowed to return to their tribal land, to their Dinétah.
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Once home, many of the Navajo children were sent to Indian schools, away from family, traditions and culture, where they were forbidden to be Navajo, and to speak their language.  Punishment for speaking Navajo was harsh.

Flash forward to December 7, 1941 and the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States to finally enter the Second World War. As with any war, there was a need for communication that couldn't be intercepted and deciphered by the enemy.  The Germans had their enigma machine, but what code could the Americans use that the Japanese couldn't figure out.

The Navajo language, that language that the government-run Indian schools tried so hard to eliminate, proved to be the perfect code. It was "unique, enormously difficult, and unwritten" the "ultimate unbreakable wartime code."

The irony that "suddenly, bilingual Navajos [have] become valuable" isn't lost in Lewis' account of the history of these code talkers.  He writes "Recruited into the military that once sought to destroy their ancestors, the 'code talkers' were born."

Lewis used spare, but lyrical text throughout this picture book history, relying on artist Gary Kelly's incredible pastel illustrations.  Kelly chose a fitting palette of dark earth tones to create both the images from the history of the Navajos and the scenes of war.

This is a beautifully done book by the same author and illustrator who did And the Soldiers Sang, about the WWI Christmas Eve truce between the Germans and British on the Western Front in 1914, and Harlem Hellfighters, introducing us to the brave and talented unsung heroes of the 15thNew York National Guard, which was later federalized as the 369th Infantry Regiment, soldier that the Germans dubbed the Harlem Hellfighters "because of their tenacity."

The Navajo Code Talkers could prove to be a useful addition to a unit on WWII, but it does have one major drawback. The story is told so generally that none of the original 29 code talkers are mentioned by name, making the overall impact of this book not quite as powerful as it could have been. Following the pattern of singling out one individual to give the story a deeper, more personal focus that was used in the other two collaborations would made this a more relatable story.  Still, it is important nevertheless.

There is some Back Matter for anyone interested in more information about the real code talkers, including Endnotes, Artist's Notes, and a Selected Bibliography.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

If you are curious to know who the Navajo Code Talkers were, here is a list compiled and posted by the former student of Window Rock High School in Fort Defiance, Arizona.  Be sure to visit their website for more information.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

"We don't know them all but we owe them all"


In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Some Favorite Books About Resistance - Nonfiction and Fiction

I've been reading a lot about resistance in World War II lately and I began to wonder how many books I have read where I used that as a keyword.  Turns out, it was quite a few books.  I've always admired the people who chose to resist the Nazis.  Whether it was done as part of a resistance group or as individual acts of resistance, it must have taken a lot of courage to go up against such a large, well-organized, well-armed government known for its cruel treatment of anyone who wasn't like them, e.g. Aryan. And as much as I have admired those who resisted, I have also wondered what I would have done.  Hopefully, the right thing.

(I know I included Women Heroes of World War I, I felt it was just that important to do so.)

Currently Reading: Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater by Kathryn J. Atwood

Next Resistance Novel: The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

Do you have a favorite resistance book?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz

It's 1943 and 13-year-old Michael O'Shaunessey, the son of the Irish ambassador to Berlin, has been living in Germany since before 1938.  Back then, after witnessing the killing of a man on Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, the systematic destruction of Jewish property and the arrest or killing of Jews throughout Germany, Michael, then 8, was stunned when his parents did nothing to help the man and made him walk away with their heads down. The reason - Michael's parents had an important secret - they are spies for Britain and must stay undercover, though most of the espionage work is done by his mother.

Now, five years later, Michael speaks fluent German, attends a German school and has joined the Jungvolk, the branch of the Hitler Youth for younger boys.  But knowing his parents are spies only makes Michael want to be part of the action, and he finally gets his chance. When a British RAF plane is shot down doing reconnaissance over Berlin, Michael and the rest of the Jungvolk are ordered to search the area for the pilot.  As luck would have it, Michael is the person who discovers the pilot hiding, but seriously hurt.  He convinces the pilot, Simon Cohen, that he will come back for him later, and successfully throws the Nazi boys off his trail.

It turns out that Simon was photographing a site where it is believed the Germans are attempting to build a jet fighter plane, known as Projekt 1065, that would surely give them a real advantage in the war because of its speed. But Michael has befriended one of the weaker boys of the Jungvolk, Fritz. When he learns that Fritz's father has the design plans for the jet fighter, Michael goes out of his way to help Fritz build up his strength and stamina for their upcoming Hitler Youth physical tests that they must pass. It also gives Michael entry into Fritz's house and the plans, and as luck would have it, Michael has a photographic memory.

Soon, the plans are recreated, and it is up to Simon to deliver them to England, providing Michael's mother can find a way to get him out of Germany.  Meantime, in helping Fritz pass his exams, Michael has inadvertently created a super-Nazi youth in him rather than an ally. Fritz now poses a real problem, especially because he has been picked for a special Nazi science project. When Michael finally discovers that that science project is, he and his parents know they must stop it at any cost.  But can a 13-year-old go up against Fritz and the other super-Nazi gung-ho youth alone?

I have to admit I had two trains of thought about Projekt 1065. On the one hand, it is totally improbable.  On the other, it is a fast, action-packed, tense, exciting novel that will keep you reading and turning pages, especially if you are a middle grade boy.

What really stood out in my mind, however, were the moral and ethical dilemmas Michael comes up against as well as his own sometimes questionable decisions and actions. From the first killing he witnessed on Kristallnacht to watching how the Hitler Youth handles their elderly teacher even after learning his son had been killed in the Battle of Stalingrad, to the sacrifice of a person he was particularly fond of, Michael is completely caught up with the idea of playing spy.  His father does question the wisdom of letting his son become involved with ideological zealots who are willing to do anything for their Führer, Adolf Hitler, and considers sending him back to the neutral Republic of Ireland, but his mother overrides his concerns.

I loved Gratz's book, Prisoner B-3087, and although I felt he may have included a few too many coincidences in Projekt 1065, I felt that he is really spot on about the enthusiasm of the Hitler Youth, the disregard for life in the Third Reich and the mindless devotion to Hitler, even to the point to dying for him and his ideology.  So, in the end, I do recommend this book for young readers, though with the warning that there is violence in it.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press