Pieces Of The Past: The Holocaust Diary Of Rose Rabinowitz by C. Matas
Matas, Carol. Pieces Of The Past: The Holocaust Diary Of Rose Rabinowitz. Toronto: Scholastic Canada, 2013. Print. Dear Canada.
The “Dear Canada” series from Scholastic recently celebrated its tenth anniversary with now more than 30 titles. It includes fictional diaries written from the point of view of a child or teenager during a time of historical significance. Pieces of the Past opens with Rose in her third Winnipeg foster home having been given the diary by her “not-father” Saul. Her guardian and a psychologist by trade, Saul suggests she write in it to help remember the past. At first she is reluctant to delve into her memories of such a dark and brutal time: “this little book seems far too small to write down ‘what happened’. How will I ever fit what is stuffed into my head into these tiny pages, all the wild waking nightmares tamed onto these straight lines…” However she progressively reveals more with each entry, interspersing her present-day teenage hardships of trying to fit in at school and in someone else’s home, with the atrocities she and her family endured during the Holocaust.
The entries are intimate and immediately gripping. Alternating between her teenage and more child-like voice from the past heightens the emotional connection readers will feel with Rose, whose name was changed from “Rozia” when she arrived in Canada from her native Poland. She describes the gradual and confusing process of losing all of their possessions, their home and finding shelter with various other families in cramped apartments and eventually ending up in a lice-ridden underground dug out.
Although in our present day, media-driven society we have become somewhat desensitized to the atrocities of the Holocaust and war in general, Rose’s story re-personalizes the tragedy in a very powerful way. As she begins to piece together the circumstances of the deaths and disappearances of her family members, we mourn with her. Some of the subplots and underlying themes will also resonate with youth of any generation. Her only friend, Susan, is the victim of bullying. Issues associated with foster care and blended families are also explored. Although at the conclusion of the diary, Rose’s circumstances are much improved it is by no means a fairy-tale ending. The author provides a subtle moral conclusion with no utopian delusions: “So diary, no storybook life for me. I know I can never really be safe. And I know that people who think they can be are just kidding themselves. But I know I can try to be good. And I will.”
The book contains a lot of useful material for the classroom. There is a historical section that provides a summary of the major events recounted in the diary. There is also a timeline of the Warsaw Ghetto, a selection of black and white photographs, and some reproductions of primary source material from the war such as a young Polish emigrant’s identification document and newspaper articles about the arrival of Jewish orphans in Canada. This book is recommended for children Grades 4-6 and higher. It is an excellent addition to the series, and like another famous diary, Rose’s story will be forever etched in the reader’s psyche.
Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Kim Frail
Kim is a Public Services Librarian at the H.T. Coutts Education Library at the University of Alberta. Children’s literature is a big part of her world at work and at home. She also enjoys gardening, renovating and keeping up with her kids.