“There are those who say that what I’ve lived through never happened. But I’m here to tell you that it did. My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.”
So begins Trudy Ludwig’s remarkable picture book, Gifts from the Enemy, based on Alter Wiener’s true story. That extraordinary past begins in happy times, a simple way of life among family and friends in the small town of Chrzanow, Poland. Alter’s mother had a saying that revealed so much about what the family valued : “There are two ways to deal with the cold. Put on a fur coat to be warm, or light a fire so that others can be warm, too.” And this was how his family lived their lives in pre-war Poland.
But war arrives when the Nazis invade Poland on September 1, 1939, and suddenly Alter’s family, like other Jewish families, begins to experience the harsh realities of anti-Jewish propaganda. Friends turn on them, freedom and rights are taken away, and soon the German soldiers come for them – first Papa is killed, then Alter’s brother is taken away…and one day it is Alter’s turn to be herded onto a cattle car for some unknown, but terrifying, destination.
Alter is moved from one brutal labor camp to the next, with starvation and fear his only constant companions. But, at one of these camps, a German factory worker shows him something unexpected: kindness, in the form of daily gifts of food. Why? What motivates anyone into kindness in circumstances like these? Alter ponders over this puzzlement until he comes to a conclusion:
“That’s when I learned my most important lesson in life: There are the kind and the cruel in every group of people. How those you meet in life treat you is far more important than who they are.”
Alter never forgot this act of kindness, or this lesson. And this is the story that Trudy Ludwig so beautifully brings to us in Gifts From the Enemy . Craig Orback’s sublime artwork brings each scene to life: from the warmth of Alter’s family home, to the barren and desolate work camps.
Alter was the only one in his family to survive the war, but he has made it his life’s work to share the lesson he learned through his memoir, and resources such as his website . Of this picture book, he writes:
“It is my hope that Gifts From the Enemy will help young readers to understand that both the wicked and the virtuous can be found in every group of people. Stereotyping or sweeping guilt by association is unfair and unjust…It is also my strong wish for today’s children to never give up hope in their efforts to make this world a better, more caring place for all.”
Gifts From the Enemy is a wise and important book to share with our students and our children. It can serve as a platform for discussing so many important issues across many grade levels – these are conversations we must continue to have in order “to make this world a better, more caring place for all.”
Trudy Ludwig, Alter Wiener, and Craig Orback
Trudy Ludwig is an award-winning author who specializes in writing children’s books that explore the colorful and sometimes confusing world of children’s social interactions. She has received rave reviews nationwide from educators, experts, organizations, and parents for her passion and compassion in addressing relational aggression – the use of relationships to manipulate and hurt others. Trudy wrote her first book, My Secret Bully, after her own daughter was bullied by some friends. Since then, she has become a sought-after speaker, presenting at schools and conferences around the country and educating students, parents, and teachers on the topic.
Her books have received the NAPPA Gold Medal Award, Mom’s Choice Gold Awards, the Moonbeam Children’s Books Gold Award, and are included in the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s “Best of the Year” Selection, the National Crime Prevention Council’s “Circle of Respect” Book Club Selection, the Junior Library Guild Selection, School Library Journal Best Picture Books Selection, Scholastic Instructor Recommended Back-to-School Picks; The Children’s Book Review Best Picture Books Selection; Kids’ Indie Next List Selection, and more. You can visit her website here.
Craig Orback is a freelance children’s book illustrator living in the Northwest and received his B.F.A. in illustration from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle in 1998. He has illustrated Nature’s Paintbox, The Can Man, Keeping The Promise: A Torah’s Journey, and other award-winning children’s books. He teaches children’s book illustration and oil painting at several local colleges. In his free time he enjoys painting landscapes and sharing his books with kids during school and library visits. You can visit his website here.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Gifts From the Enemy, autographed by the author. Many thanks to White Cloud Press for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of please leave a comment about this post by Friday, July 11th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, July 15th.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field.)
I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.