They Went Left by Monica Hesse

They Went Left

In 1945, 18-year-old Zofia Lederman is liberated from Gross-Rosen concentration camp by Russian soldiers. Traumatized and without connections, she’s admitted to a hospital. Outside her ward window, she watches as German, Polish, Russian, and Canadian soldiers travel in different directions and “every direction was someone’s home, as if the world were a board game and all the pieces had ended up scattered in the wrong corners of the box.”

Zofia has come to think of herself and the other young women on her ward as “nothing-girls”—“We have nothing. We weigh nothing, we feel nothing, we existed on nothing, for years.” One thing has kept her alive for the three years of her internment and separation from her family—the burning desire to find her younger brother Abek and return with him to their home in Poland.

When Zofia is discharged from the hospital into the care of a Russian soldier, she embarks on a strange and confusing journey through Poland and Germany, seeking Abek in the multitudes of the displaced. Zofia experiences that, though the war is over, anti-Semitism lurks in every place she goes.

Zofia finally arrives at a displaced-persons camp and meets others who courageously choose to hope despite the holocaust terrors they survived. She is drawn to Josef, a reticent yet compelling young man with secrets that bind him. As the two learn to trust each other and as an unexpected turn of events transpires, Zofia dares to hope for a life of love and family. But in a world turned topsy-turvy by hatred and reprehensible moral choices, Zofia learns that people aren’t always what they seem to be. In fact, she must face her own memories, sifting out what is false and daring to contemplate the truth and her role in events.

In author notes, Monica Hess observes that, though many novels have been written about the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, few have dealt with the months after the war “when an entire continent had to find a way to recover from the suffering it had experienced and the atrocities it had committed.” This sad, yet hopeful young adult novel admirably fills that void. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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