Fate is an interesting thing. I ordered this book from our Interlibrary Loan department without really knowing the story. Of course, I knew it was a Holocaust book for children, but I was wonderfully surprised when I realized that this book was written by one of the Girls of Room 28. (I reviewed this book a short time back.) Room 28 was a room at the Children's Home at Terezin, a holding camp or ghetto in Czechoslovakia. A key element in both books is the children's opera Brundibar. I also reviewed a children's book retelling the opera Brundibar. But back to fate, when I got the book, I flipped through the 40 pages and found a page of photographs - the page looked almost like a yearbook page with fourteen photos of young girls - Handa, Eva, Hanka, Marianne, Lenka, Anna, Helga...I knew them all! It was like seeing photos of friends from middle school. I was elated to know these women through these stories. And very excited to read another book about their blessed experience during the Holocaust.
In some ways, Cat with the Yellow Star, written by Susan Goldman Rubin with Ela Weissberger, is a more intimate look at the experiences of the girls of Room 28. Maybe it feels that way because the words are crafted for a younger audience and therefore feel like a story shared by only a few. I am so thankful that Ela shared her story and photographs with Susan. It was interesting to learn that the women who were caretakers for the girls of Room 28 made sure the children learned their manners and kept clean in an easily overwhelming environment.
Ela starred as the cat in the children's opera Brundibar. She talks, as did the previous author, about the importance of these artistic endeavors for the children of Terezin. I knew that the Nazis had promoted Terezin as a model camp and invited the International Red Cross to view how well the Jewish people were taken care of. I did not know that the children performed their opera for the Red Cross in June 1944. Apparently the Red Cross believed what they saw in 1944. They learned the truth about Terezin when the camp was turned over to them by the Nazis on May 3, 1945. This is when Ela was liberated.
Still this was not the end of Brundibar. Fifteen of the children of Room 28 survived the war and since 1986 they have joined one another once a year to enjoy talking about their lives. Ela continues to hear her beloved opera - performed by children all over the world. After one such performance on December 7, 2003 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center - Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Ela spoke to the audience:
Sixty years ago we performed this opera at Terezin. Only a few of us survived. I lost many of my friends. But when we were performing Brundibar, we forgot where we were, we forgot all our troubles. Music was part of our resistance against the Nazis. Music, art, good teachers, and friends meant survival. (p. 35)
Holiday House provides a wonderful Educator's Guide for this title.
TITLE: The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin
AUTHOR: Susan Goldman Rubin with Ela Weissberger
TYPE: Holocaust narrative, non-fiction
RECOMMEND: I learned a lot from this small book and the images included are very interesting. It certainly could be used in conjunction with Brundibar. I really liked this book.