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Parallel Journeys


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Gr 7 Up‘This is a book to make your blood run cold. Through Ayer's narrative and excerpts from Heck's memoirs, A Child of Hitler and The Burden of Hitler's Legacy, readers learn how Alfons changed from a loving, wholesome boy to a ``Nazi devil'' (even the Germans called the elite Hitler Youth by that name). It is frightening to see how easily young people can be swayed, and readers learn just how it happened. Alternating chapters reveal Helen Waterford's story through excerpts from her book, Commitment to the Dead, and Ayer's background material. Fleeing with her fiancee to Amsterdam after Kristallnacht, Helen was again caught in the Nazi noose and struggled to survive. As her plight grew more desperate, Alfons rose higher and higher in the Hitler Youth. Eventually, when he and his ragged corps faced annihilation by the Russians, he realized how Hitler had sacrificed his ``children.'' When Alfons and Helen met in the U.S. 40 years after the war, they found that they shared a common purpose: to help young people understand that peace and compassion are possible between individuals, and on a larger scale as well. Their first-person accounts are interwoven with Ayer's words so seamlessly that readers are unaware of the intrusion of a third person. She is an excellent biographer, capturing nuances of her subjects' characters and personality traits. A fascinating work.‘Marcia W. Posner, Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center of Nassau County, Glen Cove, NY

Weak execution undermines the premise of this volume, a dual biography of Waterford, a Jewish woman who survived Auschwitz, and Heck, a German who had risen to the highest circles of the Hitler Youth organization. As the book states, Waterford and Heck currently speak publicly as a team, together explaining the horrors of WWII and the importance of compassion in healing that war's wounds. As the editor of Renaissance House, Ayer has already published Waterford's and Heck's individual memoirs (respectively, Commitment to the Dead; and A Child of Hitler and The Burden of Hitler's Legacy); here she excerpts passages from these works and interpolates a chronicle of the war. However, her account skimps on facts-even so basic a matter as Waterford's date of birth is obscured, and battles and campaigns are only roughly situated (``Early in 1942, the Allies struck back. For the first time, British troops defeated the Germans''). This soft-focus approach allows Waterford's and Heck's statements to go unchallenged-a particular problem with Heck, whose story seems self-serving and incomplete at best. Accordingly, the thesis is hard to swallow-that Waterford and Heck were both Hitler's victims. Ages 12-up. (June) q

"Gripping...offers a view not often seen". -- The Bulletin

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