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Turned Away : The World War II Diary of…

Turned Away : The World War II Diary of Devorah Bernstein, Winnipeg,… (2005)

by Carol Matas

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It's 1941 Manitoba and the war is only just getting underway. This is a story of the war through the eyes of a Jewish girl on the home front. It touches slightly upon several major concerns: the Winnipeg Grenadiers, Canadian pows in Hong Kong, Canadians fighting in the RAF over Europe, Japanese internment camps in BC and many other topics are touched upon. However the main subject in "Turned Away" is a very shameful episode in Canadian history which is barely known about these modern days. Myself I only learned of this several years ago, and from a children's novel at that. During WWII, Canada did not welcome any Jewish refugees from Europe. In fact they had a policy to turn them away, an antisemitic government was mirroring the sentiments a nation had been harbouring not with hate but with complacency. Canadians were shaken to their foundations when they found out what Hitler was doing to the Jews but the Liberal government wished to keep the issue off the table (having a vocally antisemitic immigration branch) and did nothing to reflect the change in societal attitudes. The US was not exactly open to Jewish refugees either but statistically Canada has turned out to be the country with the lowest number of Jewish refugees allowed entrance during WWII, with our record of 5000 Jews from 1933-1945 compared to the US's 200,000.*

This is a sad story, very sad. Mostly it tells the day to day life of Devorah in Manitoba who has brothers and cousins fighting in the war all over the world and her mother's brother and his family living in Paris, France. We find out what day-to-day life is like this year (1941) in Canada when things change from fairly normal to having war-time rationing and community deaths affecting daily living by the end. There is no great plot device; it is a quiet story, very sombre. Devorah and her cousin Sarah, in Paris, write to each other, and through this the reader experiences the horrendous atrocities the Nazis perpetrated on the Jews and in which the French themselves often participated. There is a lot of discussion about evil vs God, bad and good, who lets these things happen, the various reasons people do bad things from evil pleasure to being afraid not to comply. I learned quite a bit from this book, even though I read about this war a lot. One such thing was the "If Day" Manitoba created, allowing the city, schools and government included, to be mock invaded by Nazis. This must have been terrifying, especially for the children, but it really brought home the reality of what their family was experiencing overseas.

Carol Matas is one of our greatest current writers of historical fiction and she has handled this subject delicately without
hedging around about the horrors. The ending is sad and bittersweet and once again, I'm recommending a book in this series for the older age range of the suggested 8-12 years. Truly well-written!

*These numbers and facts are taken from the historical note at back of book; my own misguided knowledge and interpretation may have caused errors between how I've explained things and the more precise, expert information written by the author. ( )
  ElizaJane | May 18, 2015 |
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For my new grandson, Zevi Joseph Nathanson. With love from your Safta.
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Devorah fights to help her cousin Sarah emigrate from Paris before the Nazis round up the Jews and deport them to internment camps, or worse. She also fears for her two brothers who are fighting in the war overseas. Will she lose everything?
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