The Magician of Auschwitz by Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland – Review by Elizabeth Brown
Kathy Kacer’s The Magician of Auschwitz, published by Second Story Press (2014), tells the true story of a lonely boy named Werner Reich and a mysterious magician named Herr Levin (a.k.a. Nivelli the Magician) who become friends in the barracks of Auschwitz. War brought them together in one of darkest times of the human race. But magic gave them hope, laughter, and the will to survive.
Kacer’s evocative language helps to highlight the inner tensions, worries, and fears of the camp’s inhabitants. While telling the story of Werner and Levin, readers’ emotions are tugged. Kacer pulls the reader into their moving experience – one that shows how magic and magic tricks bring two people together and give them the courage to overcome their surroundings. The characters in the book are real people. Kacer has made sure they retain their three-dimensionality by creating strong, resilient, fearful, caring, and flawed characters. But most of all, she has made them “magical.”
The black and grey illustrations do a phenomenal job at depicting the suffering of the camps, highlighting the fear and isolation the internees coped with on a daily basis. But Newland’s sense of light and shadowing offer hope and humanness. Through the touching relationship of Levin and Werner, Newland shines the light on how friendship and kindness rise up from the depths of despair. The reader feels a sense of power, and in almost a poof…an abracadabra…magic doesn’t just happen–it is a force to be reckoned with. Though the camp is barbaric, a loving presence still resides in the camp, through the magic of these two friends.
Besides reading this book for the moving narrative, this nonfiction picture book can be used as supplemental reading in the classroom for World War II, Holocaust studies and information on Auschwitz. The book may also be useful for older children in research, history, and social studies. Kacer’s story covers thematic issues related to overcoming adversity, sustaining hope, friendship, and mentoring. One of the strongest aspects of the book is its ability to tell this Holocaust story in both an engaging and visual way, offering the history and information gently, but with impact and compassion.
Finally, the touching ending to the book brings the reader full circle when Werner is performing magic tricks for his own children. The back matter offers photographs of Herr Levin and his wife, photos of Werner as a child and with the author, and the story of how it all happened. It offers the reader all the other details concerning the story of Werner and Levin not found in the narrative. The book ends with a brief history of the Holocaust and of Auschwitz. Both the ending and the back matter highlight the takeaway message that life can go on, even after tremendous tragedy. This is the greatest magic of all. Overall, The Magician of Auschwitz is a spellbinding read!
Elizabeth Brown is a writer, film producer, college writing professor, and mom. In addition, she teaches creative writing to children and teens at The Center for Gifted and plays the violin. Elizabeth’s website is http://www.elizabethmbrown.com. She blogs about motherhood and parenting a gifted daughter at http://www.motherdreaming.com.