December 20, 2011

Making Bombs for Hitler

by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic Canada
186 pp.
Ages 8-12

The title of Marsha Skrypuch's newest book may blindside you, even knock you senseless about reading it, but it would be a shame for anyone not to read this compassionate historical fiction about a little known tragedy of World War II.  As always, Skrypuch demonstrates that she is to be trusted and respected for her ability to transform even horrific history into gentle but honest and enlightening stories.

With Russian Communist rule in Ukraine and Stalin determined to destroy the country to keep it from the Germans coupled with the Nazis heading for Moscow by invading Ukraine, Ukrainians were in an unfortunate position, territorially and psychologically, during World War II.  Sadly, this senseless situation leads to the murder of eight-year-old Lida Ferezuk's father by the Russians and her mother by the Nazis.  Separated from her younger sister, Larissa, Lida is taken with numerous Ukrainian children to Germany to be Ostarbeiter (eastern workers) for the Nazis.

Housed in barracked camps, provided with no clothes or shoes, and essentially starved on watery broth once a day, Lida and other children are slave workers for the Nazis, kept only as long as they are useful.  After showing her skills with needle and thread, Lida is assigned to the Nazi laundry. But, after being gifted a cast-off shirt by the laundress, Officer Schmidt decides Lida has been too privileged and assigns her with five others girls to construct bombs in a compound away from the camp. 

With repeated defeats at the front, many Nazis retreat and, without supervision, the girls begin to sabotage the bombs to ensure they are ineffective.  But, relentless bombing by the Allies destroys the camp, allowing many to escape. Unfortunately, a number of them, including Lida, are captured and taken to a German town where their enslavement is reimposed under a man manufacturing ammunition.  Locked in a basement, they endure inhumane conditions, worsened when they are abandoned by the departing Germans feeling the threat of the Allied forces.

The inevitable arrival of Allied soldiers and their discovery of Lida and others brings the reader small pleasure, as the deaths of many and the images of the starved with legs turning to sticks and teeth loosening cannot be erased or ameliorated.  Even with their rescue and care by compassionate soldiers and nurses, the Ukrainian children are in jeopardy from the Soviets who view them as Nazis, deserving of punishment.  If they do survive the machinations of the Soviets to retrieve and punish them, many will spend years in displaced persons camps, waiting, hoping to be reunited with family.

This heart-breaking story, as told from Lida's young eyes and heart, offers an opportunity for our young readers to get a different perspective of World War II beyond the battles expounded upon in history books or Remembrance Day activities at school or the tragedy of the Jewish people.  It provides an opportunity to see war from a Ukrainian child's perspective, hopefully sparking discussions with grandparents or research to understand more fully the plight of so many during war.  [n.b.  I may begin my own research with A History of Ukraine by Paul R. Magocsi (University of Toronto Press, 1996)]

Being of Ukrainian heritage, recalling vague discussions about Ukrainians dealing with the enemy they knew and the enemy they didn't, I recognize that choices were more akin to gambles, made with the single goal of survival.  As Lida acknowledges, even with the difficulty in believing that people could be so cruel, they saw hope even when there was none, just as Lida tries to see beauty anywhere, just as her mother deemed it was possible.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful review, Helen! This was a difficult book to write, and especially to do the research for.

  2. What a prolific writer! I've read all books and look forward to reading her most recent releases. Her topics are so important and she does an amazing job of making history come alive.

  3. Could anyone tell me who the girl on the cover of Making Bombs for Hitler is? Thanks. It was an amazing book.

  4. My editor at Scholastic found that image of the girl for the cover. I believe it is an archival photo.

  5. Thank you for the wonderful comments about my novel, Making Bombs for Hitler. The photo on the cover was found by Sandy, my editor at Scholastic, who pores over hundreds of archival images looking for just the right one for the books she edits. The girl looks just like my niece.