Discover the story of World War II hero Raoul Wallenberg in Houghton-Mifflin’s “His Name was Raoul Wallenberg.” Risking his life throughout the war, saving thousands of Jews, he would disappear only days after liberation; his ultimate fate is a mystery.
This has to be one of the most unusually structured children’s biographies I’ve come across, but the more I re-read, the more I like it. In a style slightly reminiscent of Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, author Louise Borden manages to pull out all the dates and places-with-umlauts of a conventional biography, spin it around, and return prose in free verse form. I felt it matched the rhythm of the story she was telling, provided a way to not overwhelm young readers with huge blocks of text, and still left plenty of pages for the many photographs she integrates (view the sample pages to see if it’s a style your child would like, or become distracted by).
Despite movies about him, university awards named after him, and memorials in most major cities, Raoul Wallenberg doesn’t have anywhere near the same name-recognition as other WWII heroes. His story takes place during the latter half of the war in Hungary, originally a German ally and then occupied by Germany—putting its thousands of Jewish residents in danger.
Sent to Hungary specifically to help the Jews, the plan Raoul and others came up with is nothing short of brilliant. They decided to create a unique document, merging an official letter of Swedish protection that had previously worked getting Jews across the border with a passport; they called it a “Schutzpass,” a combination of protection and passport.
He bought and rented our thirty-two apartment buildings, each with a sign reading “This house is protected by the Royal Swedish Government.” When quotas were put in place, he used schutzpass numbers for entire families; when the Nazis took people anyways, he set up his own checkpoints ahead of them, pulling person after person off the trains. He drove alongside death marches with a typewriter to print out new letters of protection on the go. He climbed on top of a train car to hand in schutzpasse through the windows. This is a story of inspiring, over-the-top courage.
And finally, liberation came. Russian soldiers came in as retreating Germans blew up bridges behind them. Raoul Wallenberg went to meet with the top generals in order to ensure that the ghetto would be protected…and was never seen again.
The story of his rescue efforts is thrilling enough, but the mystery of his fate will put this into an entire other class for children. Detailing the stories, evidences, hear-say and scraps of evidence, Louise Borden integrates interviews with family members with the multiple theories of his fate.
With all the “true-story” thrills, His Name was Raoul Wallenberg is a great World War II supplemental reader. It doesn’t dive into the standard details of other middle school books on the holocaust, and really with the repetition of material that those books offer, it shouldn’t have to. What it may need—or inspire—is more research into how neutral countries operated during the War, and perhaps about Hungary’s role in particular, neither of which is front-and-center in youth books. 135 pages, hardcover with dust jacket. Middle School.