Within These Walls (My Holocaust Story #2)

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within these walls

Robyn Bavati,  Within These Walls  (My Holocaust Story #2), Scholastic Australia; 1 April 2016, 208pp.,  $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760152857

Robyn Bavati’s Within These Walls is part of the My Holocaust Story series published by Scholastic Australia.  The novel, based on a true story, follows the life of Miri, a young Jewish girl growing up with her close-knit family in Warsaw.  Initially, Miri’s life is full of the simple pleasures of childhood but when Warsaw is invaded by Nazi Germany, Miri must adapt to a life in which hatred, survival and incredible loss are part of every day. And it is Miri’s job to survive.

Bavati lets Miri tell the story – the unimaginable changes in Warsaw and within her family – through behind-closed-door conversations and her experiences of life under an imposing force.  By doing so, the story of the occupation of Warsaw is conveyed with the naiveté of a child’s perspective as Miri, and the reader, gradually become aware of the reality of what Nazi occupation will mean to the lives of a Jewish family in Warsaw at this time.

Within These Walls is constrained in its visual detail and emotion, dealing with the observable events and reactive responses of those under threat without graphic elaboration.  This in no way lessens the impact of the story; indeed it brings a deeper understanding of the pragmatism that Miri must adopt to survive within her shifting world.

This novel raises some interesting ethical dilemmas.  Is it OK to lie when one’s safety is at risk?  Will that lie put someone else at risk? Is stealing really unacceptable when starvation is at hand?  How do we know who is most needy? Or vulnerable? There are so many questions arising from the text which could form the basis for some interesting debate and discussion amongst Bavati‘s target audience of young people of 11 years plus … and their parents, teachers and friends.

It seems inappropriate somehow to say Within These Walls was an enjoyable read, but I learned so much of the history of Warsaw without feeling bogged down in facts and figures. As Miri’s life changed, so did my understanding of the escalating terror that the Jewish people of Warsaw (and so many other places) lived with during Nazi occupation in World War II.  To be terrorised because of one’s religious belief is to be attacked at the very core of everything that a person holds to be true.  It is no wonder that the first words Miri speaks when she is finally rescued are “I am Jewish.”

Reviewed by Jennifer Mors

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