Not just for children

by | Oct 5, 2012 | Book Reviews

Yellow Star
Jennifer Roy
Marshall Cavendish, 2006
241 pages, $16.95
ISBN 13-978-0-7614-5277-5

We wouldn’t ordinarily be reviewing a book six years after its publication and it is entirely possible that Jewish News reviewed it at that time. A special circumstance compels a brief discussion of this slim memoir, written in the first person, not by the person herself, but by her niece, and composed in free verse.

The author, Jennifer Roy, has written more than 30 books for children and young adults and based Yellow Star on the childhood of her aunt, Sylvia Perlmutter Rozines.

Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 the Jewish population of Lodz was moved into a small and decrepit part of the city designated to be the Jewish ghetto. Severely crowded initially, conditions became even worse as over a quarter of a million people were pressed into the tiny area to accommodate other Jews sent to Poland.

At the end of the war there were about 800 survivors; only 12 were children. Sylvia, age 10, and her older sister, Dora, were among the survivors. Saved by the courage, wit, and good luck of their father, Isaac, and the sacrifices of their mother, Haya, the Perlmutters headed back to their home in Lodz, only to learn that it had been cleaned out and that their lives were still in danger as their Polish neighbors expressed extreme disappointment that they were still alive. The family then made their way to Paris; young Sylvia finally went to school and Dora married Jack and emigrated to America. The tiny family prospered until Haya’s early death from cancer. Isaac and Sylvia emigrated from France to America, joining Dora, Jack, and several surviving relatives. Sylvia married the author’s uncle —and therein lies the book.

The special circumstance in which this book is being reviewed revolves around the fact that I did not learn of Sylvia’s miraculous survival and life journey from the book.

My wife, Annabel, and I were told the story by Sylvia herself. In September we went to Baltimore for a series of music lectures at the Peabody Institute, a program under the aegis of Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). The first class started with introductions and, amongst other relevant information, we said we live in Norfolk, Virginia. Sylvia advised the group that she lives in Rockville, Maryland, and is a survivor. Well, as they say, “six degrees of separation.” It turns out that she has two grandchildren at ODU and our grandson and his wife and child live in Rockville. One thing led to another and over the next few days we shared much together. Sylvia is still beautiful, and speaks with a French accent.

I resolved to reread Yellow Star and find it as stunning and memorable as ever. Although intended for mature children, the story, told from the perspective of a child, is worth the attention of every adult.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 28 years.