Synopsis: The true story of nineteen-year-old Jordana Lebowitz’s time at the trial of Oskar Groening, known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz, a man charged with being complicit in the death of more than 300,000 Jews. A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Jordana attended the trial. She realized that by witnessing history she gained the knowledge and legitimacy to be able to stand in the footsteps of the survivors.
Content Warnings: Several survivors talk in detail about their time at Auschwitz throughout the book
Imagine hearing about a trial two weeks away taking place on a different continent and saying, “I am going to get in that courtroom one way or another.” That is exactly what Jordana Lebowitz did. When she heard about a former Auschwitz worker set to go on trial in Lunenburg, Germany decades after the Holocaust ended, she was immediately ready to drop everything and travel from Toronto to Lunenburg to witness this historic trial.
Going into this book, I had not heard of Oskar Groening or this trial, so it was interesting to learn about it, especially through the eyes of someone my age who is Jewish and therefore affected by the outcome. It’s wild to think I was in a German language class while this was happening and yet I was oblivious to it the whole time. Either way, I’m glad I got to hear about the Groening trial and learn about its significance in this book.
As described in the book, people may wonder why German courts decided to bring Groening to the stand some 70 years after his crimes took place. The reasoning for many involved was to prove that it does not matter how much time has passed, you are still accountable for your wrongdoings. Jordana explains this and goes further to point out that this is the justice that the Jewish community deserves to see even though it came later than desired. That message extends past the Holocaust to any type of crime and sets a precedent that this type of discrimination and abusive mistreatment will not be tolerated in future generations. Now knowing about this trial, I am extremely grateful that it happened.
I really admire Jordana’s passion and drive to work with people to bring social justice to the world. She has found her cause and continues even today to achieve the many goals she sets for herself, and I think this makes her a great role model for the target audience of this book. Heck, she’s even the type of person I aspire to be.
On NetGalley, this book was categorized under Teens & YA, which I agree with because of the themes, but I do believe the audience can even be younger in some cases. The style of writing is simple and to the point, making it easy for middle-grade readers to follow, but some of the content (mainly the personal stories of what happened at Auschwitz) may be a bit strong for that age group depending on the child.
Throughout Jordana’s story, she recounts how her prejudices against German culture affected her journey to and attitudes toward the country. On the plane ride there, she met a German man who terrified her at first. Later, however, she made friends with him after learning he was on her side and also realized that the Holocaust was a horrible part of Germany’s past that he and his fellow citizens would have to work to correct. Similar encounters happen several times and illustrate an interesting view of prejudices.
Final thought: Overall, I loved the story and the information in this book. I wish this trial had been more widely talked about, but at least I had this account of the trial to learn about it. If you’re interested in history even the slightest bit, I would suggest putting this on your TBR list. You won’t regret the story, emotion, or message!