This book is on the 2023 Notable list for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards – Younger Readers (7 to 12 years)
It’s the Second World War and Himmler’s Lebensborn Program is in full flight when eight-year-old Zofia Ulinski is kidnapped by the Germans. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, just like the other Polish children taken from their families and robbed of their names, their language, their heritage.
But when Zofia is adopted into a wealthy and loving German family, it is easier, it is safer to bury her past, deep down, so everything is forgotten. Until the Polish boy arrives.
And the past comes back to haunt her.
I originally borrowed this book for my daughter to read, because she really loved We Are Wolves, also written by award-winning Australian author Katrina Nannestad. But I picked it up to read a chapter or two and then couldn’t put it down until I reached the end! It was so well written, and the true historical content was so intriguing and absorbing.
Set during the Second World War, when the Germans took over Poland, the story is told through the eyes of eight-year-old Polish girl, Zofia. Zofia is forcibly taken from her parents by the Germans because she fits the Aryan profile of blonde hair and blue eyes. In the middle of the night, when Zofia was tucked up in bed, the soldiers take her, tossing her into the back of a truck. Her terrified Mama and Tata, as well as her Aunty, had all tried desperately to stop the soldiers. But the truck drives away and so begins Zofia’s harrowing journey of becoming Germanised.
Zofia is transported to Germany where her Polish identity is taken from her under Himmler’s cruel Lebensborn Program. A combination of brainwashing, punishment and re-education is used to mould Zofia, who is now known as Sophia, into a good German girl. Sophia is a bright girl and a good student and is successfully indoctrinated into German society. While hinted at, we definitely do not want to know what atrocities awaited those poor innocent children who were not successfully Germanised.
Adopted by Doctor Engels and his wife Elsa, Sophia’s new home is a farm with a magnificent white house – three storeys high! There is also a barn, green meadows, an apple orchard and a vineyard. The farm was gifted to Doctor Engels by Hitler, to thank him for the work he does with the thousands of children taking part in the experimental Lebensborn Program. Sophia soon settles into her new life of privilege and wealth with her adoptive parents, her new mutti and vati.
Zofia’s indoctrination into German society was so successful that she learned to believe she is a good and happy German girl. But then she meets a Polish boy at her friend Gudrun’s farm. He is working there as a slave. When Sophia befriends this Polish boy, memories start to return. At first, she is confused, but then she heartbreakingly remembers the family she has lost. And with the allies advancing into Germany, Zofia’s whole world is about to be turned upside down again …
This is an outstanding work of historical fiction, powerful and memorable. I highly recommend it for upper primary and lower secondary school children.