About the Author

Kathy Kacer

KATHY KACER is a well known children’s author and has now expanded to the realm of adult nonfiction. Kathy has won multiple awards for her children’s books, several of them in the Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers. Herself a child of Holocaust survivors, Kathy travels around the world speaking to young people about the importance of understanding the Holocaust. A former psychologist, Kathy lives in Toronto.

Books by this Author
Broken Strings

The bell sounded. People jumped to their feet and gathered their things.
“And don’t forget there’s a unit test on Friday!” Mr. Herman, our math teacher, called out over the noise.
A collective groan rose up from the class. Some people started to argue for a postponement till Monday to give them more time to study. On any other day I would have stuck around and joined in the argument. But not today. Today I needed to get out of the classroom as fast as I could. I had something more important to think about than a math test. I threw my books into my bag and joined the crowd funneling out of the room. I’d gone only a few steps when I almost bumped into Natasha, my best friend. She flashed me a big smile. Smiling was the last thing on my mind.
“Are you ready, Shirli?” Natasha asked.
“We don’t have to go,” she said. “We could go to the mall, get a soda instead, maybe buy something.”
“And just not look at the cast list?” I asked.
“It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
“Tash, I’ve waited all week. Do you really think I can wait another day?”
She flashed that smile again. “Patience is a virtue.”
“This coming from you, the least patient person I know?” I asked.
“Okay, you’re right, and I was just joking. Let’s go and look.”
The hallway was packed, and it felt as if we were salmon fighting our way upstream. We were the largest junior high in New Jersey, but the building didn’t seem big enough to hold all 1,600 of us who called this place our home away from home. We squirmed and shuffled our way forward.
“You know you have nothing to worry about,” Natasha said.
“Thanks. Neither do you.”
“Oh, I’m not worried, Shirli. You know that.”
Natasha and I had been friends, and pretty much inseparable, since third grade—like two peas in a pod, or peanut butter and jam. But there was a big difference between us. Natasha had never been in a school show before. In fact, she had only tried out this time because I’d practically dragged her to the auditions. It really didn’t matter to her whether she got a part or not. The problem was that for me it mattered way too much.
“Ms. Ramsey really likes you,” she pointed out. I knew she was trying to reassure me.
“She likes everybody,” I said.
“It’s more than that. I think she sees herself when she looks at you.”
I laughed. “Like she’s looking in some sort of fun-house mirror?”
Ms. Ramsey was our drama teacher. She was in her early thirties but looked a lot younger. She was blond and slim and moved in this slinky, smooth way like someone who’d had years of dance training. We couldn’t have been more different in appearance, but I guess I had the same way of moving, thanks to my own dance classes.
“I didn’t mean the way you two look,” Natasha continued. “Ms. Ramsey is so beautiful.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Come on, you know what I mean. You’re really pretty, but not like her. You look more like me!”
Well, true, we did look a lot alike, even though my family was eastern European and Jewish, and Natasha’s was Portuguese and Catholic. But where the heck was this going?
“I mean she sees you as being talented like her.”
“Thanks, Tash.” Now that was a compliment.

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Hiding Edith

Hiding Edith

A True Story
also available: Paperback
tagged : holocaust
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Our Canadian Girl Margit #1 Home Free

Chapter One

"I don't see anything yet, Mamma," cried Margit, as she stared out at the endless ocean, straining to catch a glimpse of the approaching harbour and the land that was to be her new home. Grey fog blanketed the ship like a soft comforter.

Her mother held the rail with one hand and her belly with the other. For a moment she closed her eyes, as the baby inside moved from one side to the other, in time with the ship’s gentle roll.

"Keep watching, Margit," shouted Mamma, above the sudden blast of the ship's horn. "The captain says we're very close to Halifax now and we should see the port at any moment." She continued, "After we land it will take us two more days by train to reach Toronto."

Ha–li–fax. To–ron–to. In the past six months, these two odd-sounding names had become strangely familiar to eleven-year-old Margit Freed. And now, along with 280 other Jewish families, she and her mother were finally approaching the land that held the promise of freedom and safety for all of them.

"Our escape was a miracle," Mamma said suddenly. "We are so lucky."

Lucky! Margit frowned and glanced at her mother. Were they lucky because there was a war raging across the world, and they had been forced to escape from their home in Czechoslovakia? Were they lucky because everyone in the world seemed to hate Jewish people? Were they lucky that escaping meant having to flee without Papa?

Margit cringed inwardly at the thought of her father. Where was Papa? she wondered anxiously. Margit's mind travelled back to that terrible early morning when the soldiers had come to arrest her father, surprising the family with their loud, terrifying knock on the door.

"Out! Get out now!" the Nazi soldiers screamed, as Papa desperately fumbled for his glasses, trying to dress himself and grab a few personal belongings. There was no time for goodbyes.

Margit followed Papa outside to watch as he was loaded onto the truck and packed in with dozens of other men. He stood tall and proud, as if signalling to his family that he would be fine. Margit strained against Mamma's hand, knowing she dare not call out his name, for fear of drawing attention to herself. Right then and there, she and Mamma knew they had to leave or risk their own capture by the Nazis.

For several weeks after her father's arrest, Margit remained hidden indoors while Mamma snuck out to put the plans for their escape into place. Margit had little idea what Mamma was doing—where she went or with whom she spoke—but she was aware of secret groups that were helping Jews escape from the Nazi terror. The less Margit knew, the less she might be forced to tell if soldiers found her, her mother said. But each time Margit heard the shouts of someone being arrested on the street, she was certain it was her mother. Anxiously she watched the door, desperate to see Mamma's face and relieved when her mother returned at the end of each day.

Finally everything was ready. On the night of April 6, 1944, Margit and her mother waited at home for darkness before moving outside to the back of the house. Mamma felt along the wall for the one stone that was loose.

"Ah, here it is," she said, pulling out the stone and feeling behind for the black velvet purse."It's all the money we have. Your papa and I have been putting it aside for an emergency. Who dreamed we would actually need it?"

Hesitating, Mamma dropped some money back into the purse before replacing it behind the stone. "I'll leave some here for Papa. He'll need it when he joins us," she said, fighting to keep back her tears.

It took them two weeks to cross through Austria and Switzerland into France, and from there into Spain. Fourteen harrowing days with little food, even less sleep, and the most intense fear Margit had ever known. How much money had her mother paid to the man who owned the truck, the farmer who drove the wagon, and the couple whose barn had provided shelter for them during their flight?

Once in Spain, her mother managed to make contact with local officials who were arranging safe passage for Jews to other parts of the world. Their task wasn't easy: these days few people cared about the Jews and their problems. Just when it seemed that no one would take them in, word had come that Canada was willing to accept a small number of Jewish people who had escaped the Nazi terror and who had not yet found a safe haven. But Jews allowed to enter Canada would have to meet certain conditions. They would be admitted only as refugees, not as immigrants. That meant there was no guarantee that they could stay. And they would have to pay $1,000 per family—a fortune! Of course, Mamma hid from Canadian officials the news that she was pregnant. There was no way they would have let her on the boat if they had known. Mamma had been sick the whole way over, but then so had so many others, with the ship's constant tossing and rolling.

As sunlight broke through the clouds, the fog began to disappear like smoke dissolving into the air. Margit strained to make sense of the vague shadows taking shape ahead.

"I see it!" cried Margit, pointing and jumping up and down excitedly. "Mamma, I can see the land."

"Yes, my darling. I see it, too. Come, we'd better go to our cabin and prepare for the landing. We don't want to be left on the boat, do we?" Mamma smiled as she moved away from the railing. She rarely smiled these days, thought Margit. The war and leaving without Papa had worn her down so much that trying to smile seemed almost painful—as if she had forgotten what happiness really was.

Margit rushed ahead of her mother, down the steep stairs to the steerage class on the lower deck and then around the twisting hallway to their small cabin. Inside, she and her mother quickly pulled together bundles of clothing and the few personal possessions they had, while trying to avoid bumping into each other in the tiny room.

Margit caught sight of herself in the small mirror above the cot. She reached up to smooth her long, dark hair, brushing her curly bangs off her forehead. Her green eyes flashed as she glanced down at her wrinkled grey dress and scuffed black shoes. How would she look next to children in Toronto? she wondered. Would she fit in? Would people like her? The questions whirled in her head as the ship’s horn blasted again on the main deck. Docking was under way.

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A family's fight for their heritage lost in the Holocaust
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Stones on a Grave

Stones on a Grave

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Stones on a Grave Unabridged Audiobook

Stones on a Grave Unabridged Audiobook

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The Sound of Freedom

Chapter 1

“Last one to the bakery has to pay,” shouted Anna, bolting down the street.

“Wait, you didn’t warn me,” her friend Renata yelled before dashing after her.

The two girls raced, pigtails flying, through the streets of Krakow, on their way home from school. Anna thought she was comfortably in the lead until she glanced over her shoulder and realized that Renata was right on her heels. At the last second, Renata sprinted ahead of her and rounded the corner, coming to a stop in front of Mrs. Benna’s bakery shop.

“Not fair,” Anna said a moment later as she pulled up. She was panting heavily, and even though the air was cold and the wind was biting, she could feel the sweat rolling down her back under her heavy jacket.

“What do you mean, not fair?” Renata replied. Her cheeks were flushed from the run. “It was your idea. And I’ll have my donut filled with chocolate, please.”

Anna raised her arms in defeat and entered the bakery with Renata. They quickly found a table and ordered their sweets.

Stopping at Mrs. Benna’s shop on the way home from school was a Tuesday afternoon tradition for the two girls. Tuesdays were when Anna’s father gave music lessons at their house. He was a gifted clarinetist who played in the famous Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra and lectured at the music academy. Many families in town lined up to send their children to learn to play clarinet from Anna’s father, the renowned Avrum Hirsch. So on Tuesdays, Anna had permission to stay out after school with Renata––that is, as long as the two of them also got some homework done.

“You have icing sugar all over your face,” Anna said after she and Renata had polished off their treats.

“Do I?” Renata reached up to brush the sugar and crumbs away. “It’s so good. I could eat donuts filled with chocolate all day long.”

“Agreed! Except that I’ll take mine filled with strawberry preserves.”

At that, Renata made a face. “Nothing is better than chocolate.”

Anna pushed her plate aside and pulled out her notebook. Mrs. Benna never minded when the girls came to her shop after school. “You set a good example for other young people who walk in here,” the shopkeeper said. As long as no one was lining up for their table, Mrs. Benna said they could stay as long as they wanted.

Anna flipped through the pages of her math assignment and chewed on the end of her pencil. “I don’t know how I’d get through math without you,” she said, looking up at Renata.

“You’re just as smart as I am,” Renata replied. “Just in different subjects. I’m better with numbers, but you’re the one who helps me with literature.”

Anna and Renata had been great friends for years, ever since they started school, spotting each other across the classroom and exchanging smiles. They met each weekday morning at Anna’s corner to walk together to school. Now, at age twelve, they were as close as sisters. Baba, Anna’s grandmother, always said they could have been twins with their jet-black curly hair and dark eyes. But when it came to their studies, they were as different as they could possibly be. Anna loved to read while Renata could untangle a math equation faster than anyone in the class. Anna loved art while Renata always claimed she had ten thumbs when it came to drawing or painting. Anna loved music, and even though Renata took clarinet lessons from Anna’s father, she hated to practice. Anna always reasoned that the differences between them were what made them great friends––complements of each other and a perfect team. One couldn’t manage without the other to help. Today was no exception. The girls finished off their homework in record time.

“Will you come over to my place?” Anna asked as they began to pack up their books. “Baba is making her famous beef stew.”

“Sounds delicious!”

“And maybe she’ll give us a cooking lesson.” Anna’s grandmother loved to cook.

Renata nodded. “Sure. My mother will be thrilled that I’m learning. She can barely make a cup of tea.”

“It can’t be that bad!”

“Trust me, it is. Last week, she burnt the chicken and served rice that was still as hard as gravel. I need all the help I can get.”

“I’m sure Baba will be happy to include you. And then, when we’re done, you can help me find a dress to wear to that concert that my father is playing in.” That was another difference between the two girls. Renata loved to dress up while Anna didn’t give a thought to fashion and “girly” things. Baba was the one who always insisted that she wind hair ribbons around her long pigtails, or wear fancy dresses. Anna found all of that so tiresome.

“You can borrow my scarf,” Renata said, tugging at the bright green silk that stood out against her shiny coal-black eyes. “It’ll be perfect with just about anything in your closet.”

Just then, the bell above the door to the bakery shop rang and a group of boys entered. Anna recognized them from school, though she didn’t have much to do with them. They were older and a couple of grades ahead. And they usually kept to themselves––that is, unless they were going after the weaker kids at school. They had that nasty reputation. Lately, they seemed to be targeting Jewish kids. Another boy from their school had been chased home by one of these boys. Everyone was talking about it. The bully threw rocks at the younger boy and shouted terrible insults. Anna and Renata looked at each other nervously. Both of them were Jewish, and they knew that it was better to stay away from these boys.

The boys were jostling one another and talking loudly. One pounded his fist on the counter and demanded, “Hey, we need some service.”

Mrs. Benna approached from the other side of the shop. Her eyes flashed and her mouth narrowed into a thin line. “There will be none of that in my restaurant,” she said sternly. “If you don’t show better manners, then I want you out of here.”

The boy who had banged on the counter took a step toward Mrs. Benna. He was just about to say something when one of his friends grabbed him by the arm. “Come on. Let’s find somewhere else to go. This isn’t worth it.”

And with that, the boys turned and left. Anna exhaled a long, deep breath and shuddered.

“Those boys give me the creeps,” Renata said.

Anna nodded, a knot settling in the pit of her stomach. And it wasn’t just the boys that made her nervous. They were simply a reminder of the other troubles that seemed to be descending on her city of Krakow and across all of Poland. Lately, she had heard stories of Jewish people being attacked on the streets, pushed off the sidewalk and made to walk in the gutter, or forced to pick up garbage. At first, the victims were the most observant Jewish men, those with long beards, full-length coats, and bowler hats. They stood out and were easily targeted. But more recently, the violence had spread to the general Jewish community––people not unlike Anna and Renata.

Her baba had said that everything changed when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. She called him a maniac and said he’d made everyone feel unsafe.

“My parents have been talking a lot about what’s happening to Jewish families,” Renata was saying. “The attacks, the name calling. They’re afraid those things are only the beginning.”

“The beginning of what?” Anna put her coat on and grabbed her bag of books.

Renata shook her head.

“I don’t think anything worse is going to happen,” Anna continued, although what her friend said was making her even more anxious now. And it didn’t help that when they were thanking Mrs. Benna and saying good-bye, the shopkeeper leaned closer and said, “I’d stay away from those boys if I were you. One at a time, they’re a nuisance. But a group of them …”

She didn’t finish the sentence. And Anna didn’t want to hear any more. She linked her arm in Renata’s and pulled her out of the bakery shop. Outside, Anna flipped her thick-braided pigtails off her shoulders, pulled her knitted cap down on her head, and lifted the collar of her coat up around her ears. She needed to steer the conversation to a better place. “My father might still be teaching when we get to my house. So we’ll have to be really quiet until his student leaves.”

Renata remained silent.

“Are you okay?” Anna asked, turning to look at her friend.

Renata still looked troubled. “Those boys …”

“Don’t be afraid of them, Renata,” Anna said, mustering more certainty than she was feeling. The girls were passing through the Jewish quarter of Krakow, where the streets pulsed with activity. This was familiar territory: the old synagogue Anna and her family attended for the high holidays on her right, restaurants that overflowed with patrons up ahead, and the market where Baba bought fruit and vegetables was just around the corner.

“It’s just that my parents keep listening to the news reports from other countries,” Renata continued. “And the news isn’t good. Even Mrs. Benna warned us to be careful.”

“She just meant those boys. And we will.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Renata replied. Then she shook her head as if she were trying to clear any nasty thoughts away. “I hope your grandmother has a couple of extra aprons. I like to make a mess when I cook.”

Anna laughed and the two girls continued to wind their way home. Nothing terrible had happened, Anna thought, allowing herself to relax. And soon, she and Renata would be home and cooking with Baba. That was the last thought she had before she suddenly saw them again.

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To Hope and Back

To Hope and Back

The Journey of the St. Louis
also available: eBook
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To Look a Nazi in the Eye

To Look a Nazi in the Eye

A teen's account of a war criminal trial
also available: Paperback
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We Are Their Voice

We Are Their Voice

Young People Respond to the Holocaust
also available: eBook
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