They call her the “Hitler Girl” . . .
Stolen from her family by the Nazis, Nadia is a young girl who tries to make sense of her confusing memories and haunting dreams. Bit by bit she starts to uncover the truth — that the German family she grew up with, the woman who calls herself Nadia’s mother, are not who they say they are. Beyond her privileged German childhood, Nadia unearths memories of a woman singing her a lullaby, while the taste of gingersnap cookies brings her back to a strangely familiar, yet unknown, past. Piece by piece, Nadia comes to realize who her real family was. But where are they now? What became of them? And what is her real name?
This story of a Lebensborn girl — a child kidnapped for her “Aryan looks” by the Nazis in their frenzy to build a master race — reveals one child’s fierce determination to uncover her past against incredible odds.
1950 – Coming to Canada
The woman who said she was my mother was so ill on the ship from Europe that she wore a sickness bag around her neck almost the whole time. The man I called father had come over a year before us. He had worked in different places in Canada, looking for one that could be our home. He wrote to us that he’d settled on Brantford, Ontario, because of the trees and the two Ukrainian churches. And a foundry that gave him a job – which meant that we could eat.
Because Marusia was so sick on the ship, she spent most of her time down below. I do not like to feel closed in, so I let her sleep in peace. I was left with lots of time on my own, and I didn’t mind. I would run up the stairs to the top deck and lean over the railing, watching the water churn far far below me. Once, I climbed over the railing and sat on the edge, dangling my legs over the open water and relishing the cool clean air. I was there less than a minute when a deckhand snatched me by the waist and lifted me to safety. He yelled at me in a language that wasn’t Ukrainian or Yiddish or German or Russian. It wasn’t English either. I suppose he told me that I was crazy to be doing such a thing. It didn’t feel crazy. I was finally alone and out in the open, if only for a moment. It felt like freedom.
When the ship landed at the Port of Halifax, I followed Marusia down the gangplank. I had gotten so used to the rolling of the sea that when my feet touched Canadian soil, I thought it was moving. I had to hold onto a post to stop from falling. Marusia was unsteady on her feet too. She was carrying the suitcase and couldn’t reach the post, so I grabbed her hand and steadied her, then we walked to the end of the long snaking line of immigrants.
At the front of the line stood men in uniform, who interviewed every newcomer. That scared me speechless. What would they ask me about? What could I say?
Marusia squeezed my hand reassuringly. “Remember to call me Mama.”
When it was our turn, the officer looked at our documents, then bent down until he was eye level with me. His craggy face was kind, but the uniform terrified me. He said in Ukrainian, “Welcome to Canada, Nadia. Are you glad to be here?”
I don’t like to lie, so I didn’t answer, but just stared at him through my tears. I was glad to finally be out of that terrible Displaced Persons’ camp we had been in for five years. In some ways, I was glad to be in Canada because it was so far away from my other life. But there were things about my earlier life that I still yearned for.
The immigration officer tugged on one of my pigtails and then stood up. I listened as he asked Marusia questions about where we came from before the war, and what we did during it. I always noticed how easily Marusia lied. …
Reviews:on Best Books for Kids and Teens:
* Starred Review: Stolen Child
Nadia? Gretchen? Larissa? Who is she really? A young girl arrives in Canada after the end of World War II, having spent five years in a Displaced Persons’ camp. As she tries to adapt to another new life, she begins to remember a time before becoming Gretchen. Will Nadia be able to uncover her true identity–the one that was stolen from her by the Nazis?
Thematic Links: World War II–Lebensborn–Ukraine–1950s–Nazis
A star (*) and a title appearing in red text signify titles of exceptional calibre
Christina Minaki on Canadian Children’s Book News wrote:
With Making Bombs For Hitler, author Marsha Skrypuch continues the story of two sisters, Lida and Larissa, that she began with Stolen Child.
Making Bombs for Hitler is Lida’s story. Lida’s morther had said it was possible to find beauty anywhere, but she — like Lida’s father and grandmother — was killed before her daughters were captured by the Germans. Beauty is almost impossible to find in a brutal Nazi slave labour camp. But Lida’s strongest motivation to survive is her quest to find her beloved sister, Larissa.
Lida knows she needs to remain useful in the camp if she is to survive — and death can happen at any time. Doctors and nurses will kill those deemed “unfit” to be a part of the Nazis “machine.” Guards can barely wait for an excuse to berate, brutalize or kill their prisoners. There is the gnaw of hunger and the reality of misery and torture everywhere. Then Lida and some of her friends are given a new work assignment: making bombs — a task they have no choice but to undertake. It is a blessing that by now she knows there is beauty, even in the camp — in a shared song or story, a loving memory, a selfless act of resistance.
These gifts sustain her, both as a prisoner, and later, in a refugee camp, where she is finally safe. All she has to do is somehow find dear Larissa and a way back home. But finding Larissa will take nothing short of a miracle. And if the rumours about Ukraine are true, going home may never happen.
Making Bombs for Hitler is an achingly sad and intensely hopeful novel — honest about suffering, but also about resilience. It is gripping in its plot and its striking characters, and full of historical accuracy.
In Stolen Child, it takes Larissa almost the entire novel to remember her real name and her past. She spent five years in a Displaced Persons camp with the loving couple who have brought her to Brantford, Ontario. She knows that she must refer to Marusia and Ivan as her mother and father or they will risk losing their place in Canada. She must also go by the name Nadia. But disturbing, disjointed flashbacks and nightmares are raising troubling questions.
Why are her happy memories infused with the colour and scent of lilacs? Why are her horrible memories tied to blood and flames and desperate cries? Who are her real mother and sister? And why is she almost certain the boys who call her a Nazi are right?
Stolen Child brilliantly and deftly deals with the horrifying issues of post-traumatic stress disorder and the Lebensborn program (the Nazis stole blond, blue-eyes Polish and Ukrainian children and brainwashed them before placing them with their ‘rightful’ Nazi families). Larissa became one such child, and the road back to the truth is terrifying. She must have courage if she is ever to have peace or find Lida.
When, at the end of Making Bombs For Hitler, Lida is finally given a letter from Larissa, a beautiful link is made between Making Bombs for Hitler and Stolen Child. These two novels are a perfect fit, covering not only war, prejudice, injustice and loss, but also love, healing and new beginnings.
Enrolled in the Humber College Creative Writing Program, Christina Minaki is working on her second novel.
Shannon Ozirny on Quill & Quire wrote:
“Skrypuch succeeds in making some of the more horrific and lesser-known events of the Second World War accessible and engaging for younger readers…historical vivacity, coupled with endnotes on the facts behind the story…”
Library of Clean Reads on Laura Fabiani wrote:
I LOVED this book. And it made my heart ache so much for all the injustices the Nazis committed, especially toward children.
Dr. Andrea Deakin on Deakin Newsletter wrote:
It is a valuable addition to school libraries, giving background to the Nazi era and World War II, a story which is as moving as any from that period. We have stories which acknowledge and express the terrible suffering of the Jews, and rightly so, but we must never forget that there were so many others whose suffered terribly too during the Nazi era. This is a thoughtful and moving novel that looks at just one of the injustices of the period: many of the “leftover” members of the original families ended up in prison camps.
Jean Mills on Guelph Mercury wrote:
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch skilfully evokes the pain and fear of young Nadia, who immigrates to Brantford at the end of the Second World War. Nadia can’t separate the nightmare from the reality: why does she remember a father in Nazi uniform and, at the same time, the fear and starvation of the displaced persons’ camp?
Skrypuch, who has solid reputation for writing first-rate historical fiction for young adults, uses the backdrop of Nazi Germany’s Lebensborn program to tell Nadia’s gripping story.
N Manning on Back to Books wrote:
This is a bittersweet story that brings to life an aspect of the Nazi regime that is perhaps not so well known. While not as physically horrifying as other acts the Nazis perpetrated , it is an awful “experiment” that tore families apart, and ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. The book is a compelling read, and coupled with its shortness is a fast read. The book’s brevity does not however affect the power of emotion contained within its pages nor the development of Nadia’s character. The reader connects with Nadia as a person and feels great anguish with her as she also learns who she is and what has happened to her.
Barbra Hesson on Calgary Herald wrote:
At the end of the Second World War, 12-year-old Nadia arrives in Canada with her parents. Hidden memories, however, soon make her doubt who she is and where she came from. This story uncovers one of the lesser known of Hitler’s horrors, the Lebensborn. A great addition to any school curriculum, and an insightful read for ages nine and up. Barbra Hesson, Calgary Herald, March 4, 2012
After reading Making Bombs for Hitler (MBfH), I discovered Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s earlier book Stolen Child. Considering how much I loved MBfH, I had to read this one, too. AND, it was another GREAT, and heart-wrenching, read that I highly recommend.
This book tells the story of Lida’s younger sister, Larissa (although I didn’t make the connection to Lida until almost halfway through the book–sometimes I am so blonde), and her experience during the war told through a number of flashbacks from her post-war life . Unlike Lida who is sent to a Nazi slave camp, Larissa was stolen, given to a Nazi family, and turned into Gretchen Himmel, as part of the Lebensborn Program (Skrypuch explains this program in her Author’s Note). After the war ends, Larissa, who is now Nadia, find herself in Canada with Marusia and Ivan who act as her parents, although she knows that they are not. Trying to adjust to her new life, Nadia suffers from recurrent horrifying and unnerving flashbacks about an earlier time. The book takes you on a journey as Nadia tries to piece together her past and find out who she really is. This was such a captivating read that I read it in a few hours.
What I love about Stolen Child, as well as MBfH, is learning about something I’ve never learned before–that is, what happened to Ukrainians during the war. Much of what I’ve learned in high school about WWII, and what always seems to be so prevalent in general understandings/popular culture of the war, has always focused on the Jewish people. With a mother that was Ukrainian, I find these two novels incredibly enlightening to the experiences of the Ukrainian people. Especially considering, as Skrypuch writes:
“[t]he Nazis went to great lengths to destroy the records of these children when it became clear that Germany would lose the war, so it is hard to know exactly how many were stolen in this way, although it is estimating to be about 250,000 Polish and Ukrainian children along. The Nazis were so successful with this program that after the war, most of the stolen children refused to leave their German parents, even if their birth parents were still alive and could be located” (p. 153).
How many of these children continued to live as Germans? How many did not even now the truth about what happened? I find this just so bizarre and heart-wrenching.
There are two other specific parts of the book I want to comment on. First, I found some of the other students’ treatment of Nadia at school to be so incredibly infuriating. This poor young girl survived through horrendous atrocities that most can’t imagine, and we have some young ignorant boys making fun of her. This really opened my eyes in regards to how difficult it could be for people newly arrived to Canada after the war (and other times, too): you think that you’re finally safe and free from the troubles, and yet you still have to deal with such pettiness. The second thing I want to comment on are the characters of Ivan and Marusia: what awesome people. I just loved them so much–I really don’t know how else to put it.
Skrypuch’s writing style and subject matter made me forget that these two books are YA novels. I know, from reading some of my students’ reviews of MBfH, that many grade fives and sixes found the subject matter to be too scary for them, I applaud Skrypuch for disseminating such an important story to today’s children (as well as any adults, such as myself, who choose to read these works). I will be writing and posting a short review of this book in my library for students to read.
Here is an interview about how a deathbed promise became a novel.