Knyzhka Corner Book Review: Making Bombs for Hitler

Knyzhka Corner: Ukrainian stories, in English.

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk.
Scholastic Canada Ltd., 2012. 186 p. ISBN 978-1-4431-0730-3
Available at Chapters, Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Reviewed by Myra Junyk

In this edition of Knyzhka Corner, we will be discussing Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s novel, Making Bombs for Hitler.

The novel begins in 1943 as Lida and her younger sister Laryssa are separated after the Nazis take over their village.  Lida is sent to a work camp to become an Ostarbeiter or forced labour worker, and Laryssa disappears.  Will they ever be re-united?

Nine-year old Lida struggles to survive in the horrible conditions of the Bavarian work camp.  She is warned by older girls in her barracks that Germans don’t like young workers so she pretends to be thirteen years old. She develops a strong friendship with her fellow slave labourer Luka. She must eat subhuman food, wear the clothing she was captured in, and go barefoot.  Luckily, she is selected to work in the camp laundry where her expert sewing skills are put to use.  Her life is much easier than that of others who must work on farms and in factories.  When she comes to the attention of a cruel guard, she is sent to another location to make “bombs for Hitler.”  When this location is destroyed by Allied bombs, Lida and the other slave labourers are moved and locked up in abominable conditions to make bullets for German soldiers.

After the camp is liberated by Americans, Lida hopes to find her sister and her friend Luka.  At the displaced persons camp, the Soviets urge all the Ukrainians to return to their homeland. Some of them do – only to find out that they will be sent to Siberia as punishment for “co-operating” with the Germans. Since she has nowhere else to go, the displaced persons camp becomes Lida’s home.  Will she ever find her sister again?

This is a very well written book about a little known aspect of Nazi camps – the 3.3 to 5 million Ostarbeiters or forced labourers.  Readers will learn a great deal about World War II and the treatment of captured Ukrainian civilians.  Skrypuch’s characters overcome great challenges during a period of war and intense turbulence. Her images of suffering are unforgettable. “This was not a room after all, but a train car – the kind for cattle.  It swayed back and forth.  The sound was not the humming of bees, but the whispers of frightened children…” (p. 3)

Readers have already met Lida and her sister Laryssa in Skrypuch’s earlier novel Stolen Child which was published in 2010. Laryssa was declared a Lebensborn to be “Germanized” by being raised in a German family. Underground Soldier, published in 2014, is the third novel in this series. It explores the life of fugitives from Nazi prison camps and gives readers a portrait of the courageous Ukrainian Insurgent Army (the UPA).

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch has received numerous awards and honours for her picture books and young adult novels, including Aram’s Choice which was nominated for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children in 2007. In 2008, Marsha was awarded the Order of Princess Olha by the Ukrainian President Yushchenko, in recognition of picture book, Enough, which described the Holodomor that claimed millions of lives in the 1930s. Most recently, her book One Step at a Time won the Silver Birch Non-Fiction Award for 2014.

Making Bombs for Hitler won the Silver Birch Award in 2012 and was on the 2014 shortlist for the Kobzar Literary Award.  This novel stands out as a powerful message about the strength of a child facing unbelievable challenges who believes that, “Beauty can be found anywhere.” (p. 91).   

It is available at Chapters, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

–Reviewed and narrated by Myra Junyk

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