The adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" comes to mind when viewing the front of Marion A. Stahl's latest novel. The picture of a child's hands gracefully moving across piano keys evokes a gentle playfulness. Yet what it actually portrays is one person's stolen childhood. Be a Hero is based on the life of Anita Ron Schorr (nee Pollakova), a Holocaust survivor. Told through the eyes of a youth, it reveals what life was like for Anita growing up in Brno, Czechoslovakia pre, during, and post World War II (WWII). As Anita recalls:
I kept those memories locked up, feeling ashamed of them, for much too long until Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, inspired me. It is when I began speaking to schools. I would stop there if it wasn't for the bewilderment and fascination I see in the eyes of the young students when I share my story. When I see the expressions on their faces, I know I have to do more to keep my voice alive. I also want to honor those who did not survive and ensure that history does not repeat itself.
Stahl's first person narrative opens with fifteen-year-old Anita, who is living in a Czech orphanage and awaiting word on surviving family members. Although the latest information indicates that there are "absolutely no traces" of her family, Anita hopes for a miracle. Stahl quickly shifts the story to Anita's life before Hitler's regime transforms "the largest Eastern European country outside of Russia" into a place of destitution and hopelessness. While Anita's memories are filled with the wonderful sights and smells of her childhood, Stahl keeps readers connected to Anita's recollections by incorporating apt historical information about Czechoslovakia and its impending tragic events.
Stahl emphasizes that the key to Anita's upbringing is the music that fills her home. By the age of seven she not only begins to learn how to play the family's beautiful Steinway piano, but also witnesses a miracle when her two-year-brother effortlessly corrects Anita on a difficult piece. She is unaware of the powerful effect that event will have on her life. Reflecting on the moment, Anita makes this comment:
The memory of that moment still brightens every dark space of my present life. I feel his presence there helping me play those notes; helping me resolve whatever difficult task I try to carry out.
The anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws spell doom and gloom for the Jews, and Anita's peaceful life—including playing the piano—comes to a halt. Anita's family is visibly upset and begins to disperse their prized belongings, including the piano, to close friends. In the meantime, Anita decides that she is going to give Mr. Hitler a piece of her mind. Amid this cruel moment in time, Stahl offers a bit of comedic relief by including Anita's opinionated handwritten letter to Hitler.
While Stahl continues to unfold Schorr's harrowing tale from the ghettos to Auschwitz, she veers off in another direction. Anita's life suddenly transitions when workers are needed in Germany and her mother forces her to go, in the hope that this will be Anita's ticket to freedom. Now that Anita is separated from her family and placed in appalling circumstances, miracles occur when she is shown compassion by none other than German soldiers.
Be a Hero includes group discussion questions, a brief Czech glossary, and chronological WWII highlights. Stahl and Schorr's purpose for this novel is to raise awareness that bullying in its most extreme forms leads eventually to wars and genocide, but also to show that victims of this form of cruelty can become advocates for peace—as Schorr has chosen—rather than instruments of retaliation. Closing with a cliffhanger, Be a Hero leaves readers earnestly anticipating the next chapter in Schorr's life.
Marion A. Stahl has 30 years of experience in the health care sector as a medical writer. She has been involved with major organizations in the medical field, such as AMWA, the American Writers Association, the AMA, AARP, the Association of CFE, and has contributed to many books on health care and health topics. She has received many honors for her work in the field of medicine. Marion Stahl lives in a small town of outside of DC with her husband. Visit her website.
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