They Went Left

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Modern Age

They Went Left
Author: Hesse, Monica
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1945
Geographic Area: Europe
Country: Poland, Germany
Topics: Holocaust
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Young Adult, Adult
Format: Novel
Published: 2020

Content Warning
death, antisemitism, genocide, grief, violence

World History > Modern Age > WWII / Holocaust

Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal, her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else—her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja—they went left.

Zofia's last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.

But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her—or help her rebuild her world.

Emily's Review

This book was beautiful and haunting. It's a story that has lingered, refusing to leave my thoughts long after I closed the book. I think it's so important to show the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. So many books just end with the liberation and that's it. But just because the war ended doesn't mean everyone went back to regular life. For some, there was nothing left to return to except for a promise made years before.

Zofia is a wonderfully dynamic character and an unreliable narrator. We see her cope with what happened to her family and herself and how it has affected her over the course of the novel. Her time in the camps was traumatizing, and she struggles to face reality. She made a promise to her brother, and she is desperate to keep it. But life after liberation is far from easy. She is so malnourished and ill that it takes her months to recover enough to even begin her search. Then she finds herself in a different kind of camp as Holocaust refugees still do not have a home to return to.

It's gut-wrenchingly sad, honest, and uncomfortable, and such an important read.

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