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I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust (1986)

by Inge Auerbacher

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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779829,213 (3.91)8
The author's reminiscences about her childhood in Germany, years of which were spent in a Nazi concentration camp. Includes several of her original poems.

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I was aware of Terezin (Theresiendstadt), the fortress in Czechoslovakia used by the Nazis as a propaganda “model” ghetto/concentration camp during World War II; it was the setting for Kathy Kacer’s young adult novel Clara’s War. However, Inge Auerbacher’s I am a Star is the only memoir I’ve ever read by someone who survived the place. In 1942 when she was seven years old, Auerbacher was transported there with her mother and father, a disabled, decorated World-War-I German-Army veteran. Inge and her parents remained in the camp until the end of the war in the spring of 1945.

It is a rare thing to read the memoir of a Jewish child who was able to stay with her parents for the entire war. It’s an equally rare thing for all of them to have survived. They almost did not. In 1945, the Nazis, well aware that they were losing, rushed to end the lives of all the Jews they had in their concentration and labour camps. Terezin had mostly been a transit camp only, a place where Jews were held until an extermination camp could dispose of them. It was not equipped with gas chambers and crematoria. The Germans rushed to build these at Terezin in early 1945, but the Soviet army got there first, liberating the camp before the instruments of destruction could be used. By that point—in early May of 1945–after lobbing grenades at inmates and shooting the few they could, many of the guards had already run off. Just a little before the liberation, Inge’s best friend, Ruth, and her parents (who for two years had shared a room and bunks with Inge’s family) were on the last transport from Terezin to the death camps. Ruth was of a mixed religious background. Her father was Christian, and the girl had been raised with no knowledge of her Jewish heritage. It made no difference. She was killed by the Nazis.

Auerbacher’s memoir provides an account of her life before the war—when the German Jewish population was harassed, abused, and submitted to harsh and humiliating restrictions—and her experiences during it—when her family was transported to Terezin, where she became extremely ill with several childhood diseases due to the dire conditions. The book has a very different feel from many autobiographical works about children’s experiences during the Holocaust. I think this can be attributed to three things. First, Inge’s parents were always there, caring for her physically and supporting her emotionally. Second, Inge had other longer-term, stable relationships and friendships during her time in Terezin. Finally—and this may seem a small thing—Inge was able to keep her beloved doll, which gave her much solace. In her memoir, she actually includes a poem that testifies to the importance of that object in her life.

Unlike many other Holocaust memoirs for older children, Auerbacher’s spends a few chapters on the conditions in Germany leading up to the war. The author discusses Germany’s humiliation after World War I, the country’s failing economy, the inflation and widespread unemployment, the resentment towards and scapegoating of Jews, and the rise of Hitler. She identifies the führer’s ideology as being based on two principles: (1) Lebensraum, room for the expansion of the superior Aryan race and the right to invade other countries to get that room; and (2) Judenfrage, the complete elimination of the polluting Jewish race. The increasingly restrictive and inhumane measures against the Jewish population are briefly but well documented by Auerbacher. While this information may be dry reading for a younger audience, it provides valuable context.

I am a Star contains a great many black-and-white photographs. The historical ones help young readers to better visualize significant places in Inge’s childhood, while the family photos give them a sense of Inge’s personal relationships, particularly her closeness to her maternal grandparents with whom her family lived for a time. These family photos make Inge’s grief over the loss of her grandmother more real and palpable. Her mother’s mother was transported east to Latvia, where she was executed by Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen, the death squads that operated before “The Final Solution” was instituted. Auerbacher includes a poem written in memory of this beloved family member.

Along with the photos and text narrative, the author includes several of her own poems about her wartime experiences. While the poetry conveys important factual details, I cannot say that I appreciated it. Many poems consist of lines and lines of awkward couplets. The syntax is often clumsy, and the rhyming is trite. I really wish Auerbacher had stuck to prose. Having said that, I suspect children who read the book might not be as critical as I am.

At the end of the memoir, Auerbacher includes a useful timetable of key events and a list of books (now rather dated) for further reading. Though dry in places, I am a Star, is a valuable and informative book about the rise of Nazism in Germany, the Holocaust, and one girl’s experience in Terezin.

Rating: 3.5 ( )
  fountainoverflows | Aug 4, 2021 |
The story is about a family surviving the Holocaust. This family survived the struggle of the Holocaust for three years and were freed. I thought the author really dug deep into the Holocaust. As I was reading the story I didn't want to stop because it was that interesting. The author gave a great description of the Jewish concentration camps, so I really enjoyed reading that. I thought this book was well written and would be great for a middle school class. ( )
  TaylorRankins | Nov 24, 2014 |
One of the best works of holocaust literature that I have ever read for a youth audience. The author was one of 13 people from her town who survived their forced relocation to Terezin concentration camp. There she lived for three years, and the level of detail she includes in the work really clarifies some of the "issues" around this era for children of today. Admittedly difficult to read at times - and definitely not a work I would recommend for really young children - I found her writing compelling with a story that everyone needs to hear. ( )
  pbadeer | Nov 8, 2012 |
I could have done without the poetry. It took me out of the "feel" of the memoir. I would have happily traded the poetry for more details. The photos and drawings were wonderful touches, however. ( )
  benuathanasia | Mar 10, 2012 |
This is a memoir that will haunt you long after you've finished the book. Inge Auerbacher was sent to Terezin concentration camp when she was only seven years old. This isn't just a sad re-telling of her story of survival. She has filled this short book with pictures to help the youngest reader visualize that time period and the conditions she lived in. She has sprinkled poetry throughout. This is not just a sad story but a story of hope. Most importantly this story is the voice of every child who died at Terezin. ( )
  skstiles612 | Feb 6, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Auerbacher, IngeAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bernbaum, IsraelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pressler, MirjamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I remember as a little girl waiting impatiently for my birthday to arrive. My childhood birthdays were always very happy and special.
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The author's reminiscences about her childhood in Germany, years of which were spent in a Nazi concentration camp. Includes several of her original poems.

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