Jewish books - favorite Jewish children's books, Jewish teen books and Jewish inspirational books with sample chapters and stories online.
Jewish children's books-middle grades
Jewish children's books-young teen books
Jewish teen books
Jewish books - Jewish inspirational books
Links to Jewish educational sites
Jewish books - Jewish children's books
Far from the place
we called Home
Some of the characters portrayed in this historical novel are
composites of genuine individuals who related to the author
their personal experiences during this momentous era.
Vienna, March 1938
KURT WOULD NEVER forget that day. It was to mark the end of
his innocent years of play and shatter his childhood dreams.
They were gone forever.
Later, he could not remember when the moment of realiza-
tion had first taken place. Although something had been build-
ing up gradually over the past weeks, there had been a sense of
shock at the same time. It was as if a bright light had suddenly
been switched on in a dark room. He'd had to close his eyes
against it and was forced to blink several times until he was fully
able to adjust. Or perhaps it was simply that for awhile Kurt had
hoped that by not acknowledging the situation, he might make
it go away. But like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, he
could hide, but that would not free him of the problem. It would
still be there when he lifted his head again.
The first thing Kurt had noticed was his mother's unusual
behavior. A cheerful, outgoing person, she had recently become
withdrawn and serious, paying less attention to her family and
more to the radio. She seemed to spend every spare moment
with her ear next to its speaker, and if Kurt or his little sister
dared to talk to her while she was listening, they were brushed
away with a brisk "Later!" But later rarely, if ever, came.
Helga, their maid, was also acting strangely. She used to love
it when Kurt kept her company, telling her all about school and
his friends, keeping up a steady stream of chatter while she
worked. She in turn would tell him stories of her own son,
Joachim, who was a few years older than Kurt. He too loved
reading adventure stories and playing with toy soldiers, and Kurt
longed to meet him. Helga had often invited him to their home,
but his mother had always forbidden it. Kurt himself regarded
Helga almost as one of the family, but he knew there was an
invisible barrier between them. He was constantly aware of it,
and he respected his mother's wishes.
Now Helga no longer hummed to herself as she worked, or
played entertaining games with Kurt. He had never seen her so
silent. When he skipped into the kitchen and greeted her with
his usual "Hello, Helga!," a nod of the head was the only
acknowledgement he got. "And what delicious food are you
cooking us?" She answered this, and all his questions, with flat,
At first Kurt wondered if she'd had an argument with his
mother, and he asked his mother during one of the rare mo-
ments that she was in the kitchen and not immersed in that other
world of the radio. "Don't be silly!" she said. "Why should you
Kurt started to think that maybe they were angry with him.
Kurt had always thought that his father was one of the calmest
people he knew, but now even he seemed preoccupied and
nervous although he tried his best to conceal it. It did not
appear that Kurt was the object of his worry, though. One
evening, while Kurt was sitting doing his homework at the
dining-room table, he could hear the strange, familiar voice
ranting and raving on the radio. "It's that man!" Kurt whispered
to himself. He rose from his place at the table and walked toward
the living room where his parents were sitting. He saw his father
suddenly throw his arms up in the air.
"How could any sane person believe this ignorant man?" he
cried. "It's beyond me."
"All the same," replied his mother in a peculiar, tight voice,
"I tell you that it is going to happen."
"No, it is unthinkable," his father said. "He will lose the
What were they talking about? "Mutti!" Kurt burst out.
" What is going to happen?" His parents gave a start. They had
forgotten that he had been sitting in the next room. " What is
going to happen?" Kurt asked again.
"N...nothing, mein Kurt'chen. We...we were just talking
about a...an interesting play we heard on the radio," she replied,
giving him a quick, too-bright smile. His father studied the floor
' Time for children to be in bed, Kurt.'' He too forced a smile.
From the dining room the grandfather clock began to chime.
"Hurry and change into your pajamas," his mother added,
"and I will be along in a few minutes to hear you say Shema."
Kurt reluctantly went off to his room, unconvinced by his
mother's weak explanation and troubled by his parents' odd
As he gazed around his familiar, cheerful bedroom, he felt
better. The tidy shelves, all his books arranged neatly, and his
teddy bears arranged in a row at the head of his bed comforted
him and allayed his fears. His siddur lay in the center of his little
night table, on an embroidered cloth that his grandmother had
made. All was as it should be.
By the time he was in bed, he began to think he'd been
imagining things. But when his mother bent her dark head to
kiss him good night, a lump rose in his throat. "Mutti, are you
angry with me?"
"Certainly not!" she said, smiling tensely. "Whatever gave
you that idea?" She kissed his forehead, turned off the light, and
left the room.
Kurt could hear his parents' muffled voices from the living
room. He was relieved that his mother was not angry, but he
knew that something was not right. Determined to find out what
it was, he resolved to ask Helga the next day. She too, with her
recent silences, must know what it was all about.
4 FAR FROM THE PLACE
The following day, however, was Friday, and Helga never
came on Fridays. In any case, by morning "the problem" was
practically forgotten. He had probably imagined most of it
anyway, he told himself. Things always appeared much worse at
night. At breakfast, his mother was cheerful and warm. The smell
of her Shabbos yeast cake baking in the oven helped too.
"This morning," she told him, tying on his little sister's
woolen hat, "Use and I will walk with you to school." This was
something she seldom did. Though his school was in the Second
District, the same area in which they lived, getting there involved
a short walk and a tram ride. Kurt, along with two friends from
his neighborhood, always went by themselves. But, even though
he thought his mother's offer a little strange, he saw it as her way
of trying to make up for paying so little attention to him recently.
He was not sorry that she and Use would be coming, though,
because for the past few days some older boys whom Kurt and
his friends encountered on their way to school had been chant-
ing insulting things to them about being Jewish. In any case, he
had not been very disturbed by it, because he had been taught
by his parents and teachers to be proud of being Jewish. Never-
theless, it would be nice to have his mother along.
The streets were crowded and busier than usual on that cold
and cloudy morning, and all along the route to school they
passed groups of people clustered together in deep conversa-
tion. Many seemed to be studying newspapers in great earnest.
"Mutti," Kurt laughed, "has everyone in Vienna come out into
the street this morning?" But his mother didn't share his gaiety.
Clutching little Use by the hand, she hurried the boys along while
she glanced furtively at the gathered crowds.
On Fridays in late winter, the school day was always a short
one. When Kurt came out, there was his mother again, with little
Use in her arms, waiting for him. "I happened to be passing so
I thought I might as well pick you up on the way," she explained.
Curiously, his best friend Hans' mother had also just "happened
to be passing," and she was there waiting too.
Kurt loved Friday night, and he looked forward to it all week.
It was such a peaceful time, when his father was home early and
the family could sit down together without having to do anything
else at all, and simply be content with each other's company.
They would eat the delicious meal his mother had prepared, and
sing zemiros Kurt loved and knew so well. His father would say
some divrei Torah, and they would all have a chance to talk to
each other about things there was no time for during the week.
On that Friday night, however, a feeling of tension hung
heavily over their beautiful Shabbos table, and the glow of the
candles could not dispel the gloom and anxiety. The food was
abundant, but it lay virtually untouched and barely a word passed
between any of them. "What's the matter?" Kurt asked. "It's
His father looked at him with sad eyes. "Nothing," he mur-
mured unconvincingly. Then he sat up straight in his chair and
repeated firmly, and more positively, "Nothing at all is the
matter. You are right, Kurt. It is Shabbos and it is a time to rejoice
and be happy. Come, let us sing some zemirosV
Kurt's mother managed a weak smile and began to pile food
on everyone's plate. Soon the week's strange worries and trou-
bles melted away; at least for the time being. Kurt could not
understand what was going on, or what had passed between
himself and his father, but he suddenly felt the need to savor
everything that evening. He wanted to imprint everything on his
memory, before...before what? Before something happened. He
studied the faces of his parents and little sister bathed in the
golden glow of the flickering candles. The table, with its gleam-
ing glass and china, was reflected in the silver candlesticks. He
would always treasure that beautiful evening and its tranquillity,
while all around them there was a turmoil brewing.
Kurt could not fall asleep that night. He tossed and turned,
adjusting the teddy bears on the pillow over and over. The
feeling of uneasiness which had been temporarily masked was
there again. When at last he began to drift off, something made
him sit bolt upright, wide awake.
Kurt held his breath. He was sure that he had heard the
sounds of people shouting, but perhaps it had been merely part
of a vivid dream. The household was silent as he crept out of bed
and slowly wandered around the apartment, checking...for
what? For an explanation to his fears, that might be lurking in
the shadows. In the darkness the living room was a frightening
and unrecognizable place. The armchairs appeared to be people
crouched down ready to pounce on him, and every floorboard
he treaded on gave a resounding and eerie creak.
He was ready to flee back to the safety of his room when the
sound of glass shattering rooted him to the spot. Shouts and wild
laughter rose up from the street below. Kurt's breath came fast
and shallow as he looked about him, trying to decide what to do.
More glass broke, and more crazy laughter. The tumult rose to
a crescendo and Kurt edged over to the window, peering from
behind the heavy velvet drapes, praying that no one would be
able to see him.
His eyes widened as he made out hundreds of uniformed
men, marching through the streets chanting slogans and leaving
a trail of havoc in their wake. Heavy objects were hurled through
the windows of Jewish shops, and the contents strewn across the
pavement outside, or simply looted. In the dim light of the street
lamps he could see no individual faces. Rather, they were an
anonymous mass whose anger seemed to penetrate right
From his parents' room he could hear the frightened sobs of
his mother, and his father's reassuring voice. They were sure he
was sleeping, he knew. Why didn't he go to them? He did not
He just tiptoed back to his bedroom, where he sat staring into
the darkness, listening to the sounds of violence and fear, and
wondering what the meaning of all of this was.
KURT OPENED HIS EYES to discover that he was still sitting up in
bed. He did not even recall falling asleep, but daylight now
streamed into his room. The riot had apparently ended and
morning had come. Maybe, he hoped, the night before had
been just a figment of his imagination. But one glance out the
window confirmed that he hadn't been dreaming, for the morn-
ing light revealed the results of the night's activities. Broken
glass and rocks covered the pavement below, and all that re-
mained of several of the shops he had known so well were empty
Kurt said Modeh Ani, and hoped that at least no one had been
harmed. As he crossed his room again, he could hear from his
parents' room a heated conversation in progress. "Why can't
you daven at home this morning?" his mother was asking.
"Please, I don't want you to go out."
"I can't stay home, Eva. It is Shabbos morning and I am going
to daven with a minyan," his father replied firmly. "What if there
are only nine men and I don't come?"
"But it's dangerous."
"Are our homes any safer?"
His parents' door opened and Kurt hurried back to his bed,
throwing his blanket over his head and pretending to be asleep.
His father opened his door a crack. "He's still sleeping," he
whispered, and then closed it. Kurt got out of bed again and
back to Books for Children in Older Grades
Home Jewish children's books-middle grades Jewish children's books-young teen books Jewish teen books Jewish books - Jewish inspirational books site map