When the World Was Ours

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Elsa, Max and Leo are firm friends and live in Vienna. They love playing tag in the park, swimming and doing all the normal kid things. Yet, over time, Max’s dad decides that “people like” Leo and Elsa’s parents are the reason for him losing his job and having no money… and it seems that a lot of people agree with him. In fact, Elsa’s parents decide in 1937 that it’s too dangerous for them to live in Vienna anymore, and move to Czechoslovakia.

In 1938, Max’s father gets promoted to being an SS Officer in Herr Hitler’s new Germany, and the family move to Munich. Joining the German Youth movement and attending a different kind of school, Max starts to feel part of something and no longer left out on the sidelines. His activities give him a sense of pride, except for when his teachers say horrible things about Jews. Shortly after, Hitler takes Czechoslovakia. Leo’s family search desperately for a way out of Germany, but opportunities for Jews to leave are very few.

As the holocaust goes on, Max and Elsa find themselves brought to the same concentration camp, yet on opposing sides. As the story leads to its terrible conclusion, will friendship ever be enough to bridge the gap that has widened between them?

As it contains strong themes and distressing scenes, this moving and well written and researched book about the holocaust is only suitable for readers 12+. Drawing on Kessler’s own family history, it’s a brilliant and yet haunting read; essential for young readers who must, like all of us, never forget.

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