Werner Berlinger, 12, has seen the Nazis pounding on the doors of his Jewish neighbors and knows why entire families have disappeared. In this second book in Rosemary Zibart’s Far and Away Series, which offers fictionalized accounts of unaccompanied and displaced children who found their way to the United States during World War II, Werner’s father gives him a passport and a ship’s passenger ticket from Hamburg to America just as Germany invades Poland in 1939.
Though he was hoping to find something grand in America, Werner ends up in New York City’s Lower East Side with his mother’s cousin, Esther, who has been struck by polio and lives in a tiny apartment. He quickly discovers that the land of freedom has its own bullies, hardships and even Nazi sympathizers. On a jaunt to Harlem with one of the first African Americans to befriend him, he also learns that fear and prejudice plague both sides of the ocean.
As Werner struggles to fit into his new life, elements of surprise and wonder—such as hotdogs, kind shop owners and the thrills of Coney Island—ease his longing for the rest of his family. The boy’s eagerness to become American shows in his curiosity and letters sent back to Germany, while the author’s use of street slang helps set the scenes among New York’s working class.
Although it’s easy to surmise what probably happened to Werner’s family, Zibart presents the harsh realities of Jewish life both in Germany and as an immigrant in the U.S. in a manner appropriate for middle grade readers. Despite his many setbacks, Werner comes to realize that he is lucky to be alive. This inspirational series continues to be an eye-opening look at World War II’s youngest survivors and heroes.