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When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers    by Ken Krimstein order for
When I Grow Up
by Ken Krimstein
Order:  USA  Can
Bloomsbury, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

In this book are autobiographies of six teenagers who lived in Eastern Europe before the start of World War II. Three competitions offered a prize (worth $1000 today) to the best entry, and all entries were to be kept anonymous.

The prize was to be given on September 1, 1939, the day that the Nazis invaded Poland. What happened next is as interesting as the teenagers' stories. Librarians and others (who became known as the Paper Brigade) smuggled as much as they could away from archives that were of interest to the Nazis. When the Soviets conquered this area the Paper Brigade recovered the trove, and it became part of the Jewish Museum. When Stalin later ordered the Museum's contents destroyed, a brave Communist party official stashed papers in a decommissioned cathedral, where they stayed until being discovered in 2017.

Ken Krimstein's lively illustrations help us to see where these teenagers lived and what their parents and rabbi looked like, as well as their dreams and hates and hopes. In the narration, he provides explanations of terms and cultural usage we might not understand. You can tell how important these stories are to him. He has wondrously captured the world of Yiddishuania a moment before it disappeared, and we are privileged to be able to view it. This is a very moving work.

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