When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers
Bloomsbury, 2021 (2021)
Reviewed by Barbara Lingens
n 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.
he 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
) 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.
en 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
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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