On My Bookshelf: Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero

May 23, 2016

In Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero, the lives of Elsi, a young half-Jewish girl in the Lodz ghetto, Matilda, a Romanian child taken from her home to be Aryanized, and Willem, a Nazi doctor, become intertwined as each struggles to survive. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: A Nazi doctor. A Jewish rebel. A little girl. Each one will fight for freedom—or die trying.

Imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto, Elsi discovers her mother’s desperate attempt to end her pregnancy and comes face-to-face with the impossibility of their situation. Risking her own life, Elsi joins a resistance group to sabotage the regime.

Blonde, blue-eyed Matilda is wrenched from her family in Romania and taken to Germany, where her captors attempt to mold her into the perfect Aryan child. Spirited and brave, she must inspire hope in the other stolen children to make her dreams of escape a reality.

Willem, a high-ranking Nazi doctor, plans to save lives when he takes posts in both the ghetto and Auschwitz. After witnessing unimaginable cruelties, he begins to question his role and the future of those he is ordered to destroy.

While Hitler ransacks Europe in pursuit of a pure German race, the lives of three broken souls—thrown together by chance—intertwine. Only love and sacrifice might make them whole again.
In Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero, the lives of Elsi, a young half-Jewish girl in the Lodz ghetto, Matilda, a Romanian child taken from her home to be Aryanized, and Willem, a Nazi doctor, become intertwined as each struggles to survive. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: Broken Angels falls into my favorite genre, historical fiction, and focuses on a topic of personal interest, the Holocaust. What makes this novel different from other Holocaust-related texts I've read is it's use of alternating point of views and the light it shed on the relocation of Aryan looking children from Nazi-occupied territories, a practice of which I was previously unaware.

One of the narrators is Elsi, a resident of the Lodz ghetto. Her father, a Gentile, left for work one day and never returned, leaving her, her Jewish mother, and her younger sister Leah to fend for themselves. Deportation is a constant fear, especially because of Leah's age and her slight limp. Their cramped living conditions get worse when another couple moves in with them. Elsi, at first is inclined to keep her head down and avoid drawing any attention to herself, but eventually gets involved in resistance efforts within the ghetto.

Matilda is a nine year old carefree young girl living in Romania until she is selected to be relocated to Germany. Her mother signs her over to the Germans for the promise of more food and to save her two sons from being commissioned into the army. Once Matilda arrives at her new home, she is instructed to teach the other "orphans" German, but she spends more time telling them stories, and is repeatedly punished for her defiance.

Willem mans the infirmary in the Lodz ghetto, frequently performing abortions for Jewish residents until he is called to Auschwitz to part a part of experiments on women prisoners. The horrifying treatment of these women and the death of his young pregnant wife send him spirally and he returns to the Lodz ghetto where he rescues Elsi from deportation. His father, a high ranking Nazi official, has him assigned to the "orphanage" where Matilda resides. It is there that Willem, Elsi, and Matilda's lives become intertwined. Their stories end with redemption, but also unhappiness.

Classroom application: This novel could be paired with a history unit on the Holocaust and/or World War II. If you use literature circles in your classroom, this would be a great choice for a unit on the Holocaust, but also on the themes of heroism or survival.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Broken Angels for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:



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