Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Making Bombs for Hitler

Making Bombs for Hitler

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Historical Fiction
For ages 10 to 12
Scholastic Press, 2017   ISBN: 978-0545931915

Lida grew up in a Ukrainian village, and when World World II started her life did not change much for a while. Then the Soviets joined the war and their armies began to move across the map. The Soviets killed Lida’s father and terrorized the people in her village, and when they left the Germans arrived. Lida thought that no one could be as bad as the Soviets but she was wrong. The Germans were worse. They rounded up the Jews and killed anyone who tried to hide Jews in their home. Including Lida’s mother.  Lida and her little sister Larissa went to live with their grandmother for a while and all was well until the two girls were forcibly taken away.

Now, along with countless other children, Lida and Larissa have been brought to a place where they are put into different groups, and the sisters are separated. Lida desperately tries to stay with her sister, but she is carried away and thrown into a cattle train car.

For days the children travel to an unknown destination. They are given a bucket of disgusting soup to eat, and one bucket of drinking water every few days. Lida, her heart breaking because she has no idea what has happened to Larissa, starts to sing a lullaby that her mother used to share with her. Soon many of the children are singing along, and this shared experience helps them get through the long hours.

Finally the children arrive at a camp. They are forced to take off their clothes, bathe, and their heads are shaved. The next morning their names, ages, and places of origin are written down. The children who come from the Ukraine are forced to wear special badges that indicate that they are from the east, and they are treated worse than everyone else.

Remembering that she was warned to be “be useful or they will kill you,” Lida lies about her age, saying that she is thirteen instead of ten. She has been told that young children are of no value to the Nazis and useless people are killed. She is still not sure if she did the right thing as she watches as the younger children are taken away. Later she finds out that the children were taken to the hospital where they were literally drained of their blood. The blood was sent to the front to be given to the wounded German soldiers.

Lida has one advantage that the other girls do not have; she is a skilled needlewoman. Instead of being sent out of the camp to work in factories, she is sent to help the laundry woman and to repair sheets and clothes. The laundry is warm and Lida is given a clean smock to wear while she is working.

Then Lida is sent to work in a factory. She and a few other girls who are dexterous are given the job of making bombs. At first the girls do as they are told, but when security becomes more lax, they start to sabotage the weapons that they are making. Finally they have a way to fight back against their captors.

This powerful and painful book is based on the true stories of Ukrainian and Soviet children who were forced to work in labor camps during WWII. To all intents and purposes they were slaves, and they were treated with shocking cruelty. The children who could not work were disposed of one way or another.

As the story unfolds, we watch as Lida figures out how to survive in her terrible new life, and how to clings to the hope that one day she will be reunited with her precious sister. She builds friendships that help sustain her through so much, and one in particular helps her stay strong.