To Look a Nazi in the Eye

To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial

Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz, Authors

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 13-19

Themes: Oskar Groening, WWII War Crimes, Trial, Holocaust, Justice

Book Jacket Synopsis: True story of nineteen-year-old Jordana Lebowitz’s experience attending the war criminal trial of Oskar Groening. Groening worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp and became known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz.” In April 2015 he stood trial in Germany for being complicit in the deaths of more than 300,000 Jews.

A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Jordana knew a great deal about the Holocaust and had traveled to Europe with her Jewish Day School classmates to visit Auschwitz and participate in the March of the Living. There she met and became friends with Hedy Bohm, a holocaust survivor. A few years later she invited Hedy to speak with students and faculty at the university she attended. When Hedy told her that she had been asked to share her personal story of survival at Groening’s trial, Jordana wanted to go to Germany. But she was not prepared for what she would see and hear at Oskar Groening’s trial, including how much an ordinary seeming man — who at first glance reminded her of grandfather — could be part of such despicable cruelty. She had expected to hate him, and she did. But hate, just like forgiveness, can be complicated.

Listening to Groening’s testimony and to the Holocaust survivors who came to testify against him, Jordana felt the weight of bearing witness to history — a history that we need to remember now more than ever.

Why I like this book:

Kathy Kacer sensitively weaves a format for this compelling and dramatic nonfiction narrative that reads like a story. The chapters alternate between Oskar Groening’s life story and testimony, Jordana’s experiences of the trial, and her relationships with the courageous survivors she has come to love and respect. Kacer shares the survivor’s gut-wrenching stories with compassion, dignity and grace. Her pacing will keep readers glued to the story.

There are interesting dynamics at play throughout the story. Seeing the trial through Jordana’s eyes  (two generations removed) offers readers an open-minded and contemporary perspective. Jordana is loyal to the survivors she has journeyed with to Germany. Their painful stories are etched in her heart and mind. But she has trouble seeing Groening as a monster. She wants to hate him, but she sees a frail and sad man who admits he’s morally guilty for his role in the process. Yet she is disturbed by the details of his actions.

Jordana meets the deniers who say the Holocaust is a conspiracy. She converses with Reiner Hoess, the grandson at the Rudolf Hoess, the mastermind behind the design and construction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. She is moved that Hoess has spent his life talking about the Holocaust with young people and has come to see justice served in the Groening trial. She is shocked after a female survivor finishes her testimony, steps up to Groening, shakes his hand and says “I forgive you.” The other survivors are upset by the woman’s gesture. Jordana even boldly walks up to the judge and asks him “what is it like to be a judge at this trial…and does it affect you?”

Jordana doesn’t carry the baggage of a survivor. She has a youthful desire to be a witness to history and relates her experiences of the trial through a daily blog she writes for the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center — the center that paid for her plane ticket to Germany. In the end, Jordana realizes that the trial represents something greater than achieving justice for the survivors. It sends a message to the world that there will be consequences for anyone who is commits or assists in hate crimes, murders and genocide against human beings, no matter how long after a crime.  Jordana also sees an important role for “the youth of today to create a better tomorrow.”

Resources: There is an Epilogue at the end about other SS Nazi guards being brought to trial. Since most are in their 90s, time is running out. Kacer shares what Jordana has  done since the trial and her dream to become a human rights attorney. To Look a Nazi in the Eye is an important book for school libraries. It fits nicely with Holocaust education and will challenge students to have many lively discussions. Although this book is designated for those 13 and up, I would share this book with a mature middle grade student. Adults will benefit from reading this tactfully written book.

Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her books about the holocaust for young readers, including Hiding Edith, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, Clara’s War and The Underground Reporters. A former psychologist, Kathy tours North America speaking to young people about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. For more information, visit Kacer’s website.

Oskar Groening died Mar. 13, 2018

Greg Pattridge is the permanent host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

29 thoughts on “To Look a Nazi in the Eye

  1. Wow! This is a must-read for parents and children. In fact, they should read it together and discuss it. It should also be in every school library. Thanks for bringing this powerful book to our attention with such an excellent review.

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    • I will admit that I learned a lot and believe it is a great read for teens and their parents. Other than the subject matter and an older teen, I would have no problem sharing this book with mature teens younger than 13.

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    • I felt it a more contemporary view from a teen whose grandparents were survivors. Her grandmother was outraged that she would even want to go to a country where of Nazis. Different generations.

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  2. I must have this book, not only to read for myself but to share with others. And what a great angle to write about this event. It should attract many readers. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Yes, I believe writing the book from the POV of a Jewish teen, offers a different perspective. For the survivors it wasn’t so much about the sentence but sending a strong message to the world that accomplishes would be convicted — something that didn’t happen in the past.

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    • Yes, from Groening’s testimony you come to understand his family history of military officers, the brainwashing of young people in Germany after WW I with a lot of blame going to the Jewish community, strong national pride, not really understanding what Hitler was doing until they joined him, secrecy to their families etc. — all things I’ve heard before in my reading so many Holocaust stories. But, it is good for us to know so that we are watchful of our leaders. I was chilled by what Heinrich Heine wrote in 1823, “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

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  3. Oh, I feel my school must buy this. We have many holocaust books in the library but this has such a different POV, a great choice by the author. Thank you, Pat – excellent review.

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  4. Pingback: 39 Haunting Holocaust Books for Kids

  5. This sounds like an amazing read — and your review came at the perfect time in my life as well. I’ve just finished a unit on Nazi Germany for my European History class, and there is truly no better way for me to learn more about a setting in the world than to read a book about it. I hope my understanding of the Holocaust will become much broader after reading this book. Thank you for the recommendation, Patricia!

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    • It is an amazing read. It will benefit you, but there are so many points of view from many books out there. You can look back through my blog and find the many PB, MG and YA books I’ve reviewed — some nonfiction and many historical fiction. So many countries played a role in assisting the resistance and putting their lives at risk to help Jewish families. Author Kristin Hannah has an adult book, Nightingale, that is powerful — it’s being made into a movie. I’ve learned more from reading books, than I did in the classroom. Good luck!

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  6. This sounds incredable. I’ve always had trouble when asked what to do with criminals. For me, I do not believe that the current system in the USA is working as well as it could be (and that’s completely ignoring the extreme racial bias in the criminal justice system.) but I can never think of a better solution. People can be monsters, and it can be hard to tell them from non monsters. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, but I will definitely check this book out. Thank you for your review!

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    • I share your difficulties with our criminal justice system. Have always felt that it should be on helping rehabilitate. Saw an interesting documentary/story about what another country does and the success rate. I think you will find the teen’s POV interesting because she struggles like you do. Oskar Groening died a few days before I published my review. He was about 96. But, the story does have a strong message that is timely for those who participate in genocide and murder. I enjoyed reading the book as it made me think.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. More important than ever before, we must remember the lessons of history. Thank you for calling this book to our attention.

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