Book review

Goodbye Marianne by Irene N Watts (1998)

Can you imagine how frightened you would be to realize that the world is a terrifying and dangerous place, and your parents cannot protect you?

That was how it was for Jewish children living in Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It all happened so quickly. People couldn't really believe it was happening. And nor would you, if you turned up for school one day and your name was on a list of children who were no longer allowed in.

But that would not have been the first inkling you had that something was going wrong in your life. For Marianne, in her life, she already knows that she is not tolerated in her home town any more, because she is Jewish. She already has to wear a yellow star on her clothes. She is is already forbidden to sit on benches in the local park. And her father is no longer permitted to run his business. How can he earn money to support his family? He is taken to a concentration camp, and although he is later released he dare not return to his family because he may endanger them. Marianne's mother works in an orphanage for Jewish children, and she does her best to support herself and her daughter. It's a kind of hell though. They are visited by the Gestapo in the night, and their apartment is torn to pieces. It is not safe for Jews to walk the streets for they may be attacked and beaten or murdered by the townspeople.

The final devastation comes for Marianne's mother when she is given notice to vacate their apartment. Jews are no longer allowed to live there. What can they do? Where on earth can they go? For Marianne there is one, almost unthinkable, escape route. The British Government is transporting Jewish children out of Germany, as refugees, to the safety of Britain. Can you imagine having to leave your parents in such circumstances? Could you do it? Will Marianne ever see either of her parents again? She is just eleven years old.

A cheer went up from the ship as the first children reached the wooden gangway and climbed excitedly on board. Marianne stood leaning over the ship's railing, looking out into the darkness. So many children still to come. How had the train held them all? So many parents sitting tonight with empty places at the table.

Nothing about the Second World War is easy, and perhaps the fate of the Jewish people during that period is most difficult to face up to. I find it extremely upsetting to read books like Goodbye Marianne, because I have a fairly clear idea about what really happened to children like Marianne. Only a few families escaped before the outbreak of war. Those who stayed behind perished. But you can still read a book, even though you know it is going to be hard to bear.

What can I read next?

If you enjoy this book, and would like to follow Marianne when she arrives in England, you can read the sequel. Actually, it's a trilogy:

  • Goodbye Marianne
  • Remember Me
  • Finding Sophie

If you would like to follow the fortunes of another young Jewish refugee during this dreadful period, have a look at this series by Judith Kerr:

Of course, during the war English children were evacuated from the large towns and cities to the safety of the countryside. That could be a difficult experience too. You might be interested to read this book by Nina Bawden:

Or either of these brilliant books by Michelle Magorian:

Or this trilogy by Joan O'Neill about life in Ireland during the Second World War:

There is an excruciating book about a young Jewish boy who did not manage to escape from Germany before the outbreak of the war. It is by Hans Peter Richter:

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