Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Making Bombs for Hitler, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Few people know about the slave raids that Hitler conducted throughout the Soviet Union during World War II. Nazi soldiers would descend upon a town of village and capture the young people who gathered together in public places. The prisoners were loaded into boxcars and transported to Germany, where they were forced to work under brutal conditions. There were between 3 and 5.5 million Ostarbeiters. Most of them were Ukranian. Many were worked or starved to death” (Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch). 
The main character’s name is Lida Ferezuk. Lida’s mother is shot and killed by the Nazis for trying to hide some Jews from them. The Nazis shoot all the Jews as well, including Lida’s best friend Sarah. Lida and her sister Larissa are captured by the Nazis and are separated. Lida was transported to the camp in Germany in a cattle car with a bunch of other boys and girls. When they stop at a train station the woman who gives them their food whispers, “Be useful or they will kill you.”

When they arrive at the camp, their heads are shaved and they are sprayed with some sort of stinky chemical to kill the body lice that had infested their cattle car. They are given OST (“East”) badges to sew onto their clothes. They are told that if they are caught without their OST badge on, they will be shot. Many girls in Lida’s barracks do a quick, sloppy job to just get it over with. Lida does a careful, neat, pretty stitch, which gets her a job at the laundry mending clothes when an officer notices her “deft hands.”

Inge, the other laundry worker, gives Lida needles and thread, and has her fixing sheets with frayed edges, and even an officer’s jacket – the officer who got her the laundry job. When Lida is done, Inge praises her, and Lida knows that she has been deemed “useful.” This is good, because the kids who are not deemed useful are sent to the hospital.  Lida makes a friend named Juli, who works in the hospital, and asks her what happens to the children going to the hospital. She is shocked to learn that the nurses there drain the children’s blood. Then the blood is given to the Nazi soldiers hurt in the war. That night, 3 new girls are taken into the barracks. Their names are Oksana, Marta, and Natalia. They take the place of Daria, Katya, and Tatiana, 3 girls who went to the hospital and never came back.

Lida wonders why the Nazis treat the kids as if they are just “spare parts for their war machine.”

One day Inge receives a package of clothing from her husband. When Lida sees the blouse, coat, and handkerchiefs she immediately knows that they are stolen. Inge tells Lida to remove the name stitched on the label on the blouse and coat and replace it with her name. Then she asks Lida to sew Inge’s initials on the handkerchiefs as well. Lida does such a good job that Inge decided to reward her. Lida asks for a new dress as her reward, and so she gets an old shirt from which she can make a new dresses for herself and Zenia, another girl in the barracks whose dress is completely ripped to shreds. The next day she is given a new assignment by Officer Schmidt because he thinks she is getting a bit “too comfortable” in her laundry job. She is now to make bombs in a factory where her job is to measure out the gunpowder.

Now Lida is pretty much
literally a part of their “war machine.”

One day, Natalia enters the barracks looking especially pleased with herself. She reaches into her pocket and shows Lida, Zenia, and 3 other girls a small package filled with brown sugar. Zenia thinks that the sugar looks like the gunpowder in the bombs. Kataryna, a girl in the barracks, thinks that the dirt outside the washhouse looks even more like gunpowder. Natalia says, “What would happen if we put some dirt into the bombs?” Zenia thinks if they did that the bombs wouldn’t work so well! That might save innocent lives. A woman named Bibi even puts little notes in the bombs that say, in several languages, “Dear Allies, this is all that we can do for you now.”   

Does the girls’ plan to sabotage the Nazi bombs work? Do they all survive the war? Does Lida ever find her sister?

Making Bombs for Hitler is a historical and captivating novel which draws the reader’s attention to Lida as she experiences physical and mental struggles as a German slave during World War II. This book is definitely not for younger readers, who may be traumatized by the way that Lida and her friends are treated in the labor camp, the evil of the Nazis – executions, enslavement, mass poisonings. The violence is necessary to make it more realistic, and the book is inspired by real events. The book, writes author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, “is dedicated to Anelia V., whose detailed recall of day-to-day life as a Nazi slave helped [her] create an accurate world for Lida.”


Daddy's afterthoughts:  When I was a kid, I don't remember  teachers rushing to force the horrors of war and injustice on us. When I was Julia's age (6th grade), I had never even heard of the Holocaust (and I grew up raised up by Jewish parents). Oh, I would have studied it in junior high or high school, at an (arguably) more age-appropriate time. Sadly, that innocence is lost, and children are introduced to these things way earlier than perhaps they are ready to. This book will absolutely trigger conversation; be ready. This book features a plucky heroine (how nice that this generation has more books for tweens and teens with strong female characters) but this young girl's heroism is not the typical overcoming-high-school-angst gumption of Marcy in The Cat Ate My Gymsuit (see Julia's blog post on that book here), or the fantasy-world heroics of Harry Potter's Hermione Granger. The evil that Lida is up against is very, very real. This book is lovely, but emotional. For students assigned Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, I would recommend this book as an appetizer course (or, to lapse into teacher-speak, an "anticipatory set.")


  1. Dear Julia,
    Thank you for writing this well-crafted and articulate review of my book!

    1. You're welcome! I enjoyed your book so much and that is why I did a review on it.

  2. This looks really interesting. I'm always on the lookout for books about the Holocaust from the point of view of a child but I've somehow missed this one. Thanks for the review, Julia!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this

  4. very good i used this 4 my English project :D



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