Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Forging Freedom: A True Story of Heroism during the Holocaust

Author Hudson Talbot had been friends with Jaap Penraat for many years when he realized that Jaap had an amazing story that needed to be told. Talbot tells this story in Forging Freedom: A True Story of Heroism during the Holocaust. The book neatly combines narrative with illustrations which should make this very readable for middle grade readers.

Jaap Penraat begins in Amsterdam in the 1930s where he is friends with many Jewish people. One elderly Jewish man is a special friend to Penraat who always helps out with small tasks for his neighbor. As the Nazis move into the Netherlands, Penraat is worried about the safety of his Jewish friends and begins to create couterfiet papers for them. After being arrested for suspicion of aiding the Jews, Penraat realizes that he must help more people more quickly. He and a friend travel to Paris to obtain a new type of travel permit for a fake company ~ they will be moving men to build a wall around Europe. Of course, their real purpose is to move Jews to France where they can safely get to Spain and on to freedom. From 1942 to May 1944, Penraat and his friend saved 406 Jewish lives. Penraat was awarded the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations. His medal is engraved with this proverb:

He who saves a single human life saves the entire universe. (p.64)

I found it interesting that School Library Journal gave this book a fairly negative review on November 1, 2000.
  • The author's personal connection to and affection for Penraat is evident in the warmth of his descriptions. Unfortunately, much of the story is told through unattributed or fictionalized dialogue, and while the imagined conversations have the ring of truth, they are not supported by any documentation. Competent watercolors and pictures of forged documents lend some authenticity, but today's young readers have come to expect explicit sources for factual accounts. General statements and information presented only on the jacket are insufficient.-Kathleen Isaacs
I disagree with the reviewer and feel that this book can certainly serve as a beginning read for students who can then do their own research to add to the narrative of Talbot's informative and emotional account of his friend's wartime experiences. And while Books in Print did not indicate that the book has won any awards, Forging Freedom has been nominated for the three awards listed below.

The Holocaust Teacher Resource Center has an excellent lesson plan for this book designed for grades 5-8. Here is another lesson plan from Chapman University.

TITLE: Forging Freedom: A True Story of Heroism during the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Hudson Talbott
TYPE: non-fiction literature
RECOMMEND: This is a fascinating story about courage ~ how one man saved his fellow Dutchmen.
AWARDS: Maryland Children's Book Award (nominated 2004)
Virginia Reader's Choice Award (nominated 2003)
Young Hoosier Book Award (nominated 2005)

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