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Review: We All Wore Stars (Theo Coster)

We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her ClassmatesIn 1941, Theo Coster was a student at the Amsterdam Jewish Lyceum, one in a class of 28 Jewish children that the Nazis had segregated from the rest of the Dutch population. Among Theo’s fellow students was a young Anne Frank, whose diary would later become one of the most important documents of the Holocaust. In this remarkable group portrait, Coster and five of his fellow classmates gather their personal stories and memories of Anne. The accounts collected here do not just help us to rediscover Anne Frank. They also stand on their own as remarkable stories of ingenuity and survival during the Holocaust--from Albert Gomes de Mesquita, who hid in ten different towns across Europe--to Hannah Goslar, who experienced the horrors of Bergen-Belsen but also made a miraculous reconnection with Anne days before her death.

This is probably the hardest review I have ever written. I really don’t know where to start. I was giving this book awhile back for review, but I put it off until I was in the right emotional mindset to read such a difficult topic. As fate would have it, my book club’s topic this month is the Holocaust. After all, Holocaust Remembrance Day is April 18th.  
I was worried when I started this book that it was going to be emotional draining like Night by Elie Wiesel. (Wonderful book, but heavy reading.) I could hardly finish the book because I was crying so much. I was relieved to find that We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates was a much lighter read. The author has taken a slightly different angle to share on this horrific event, which makes this a perfect book for introducing the Holocaust.
I do not usually like nonfiction, but I love nonfiction that reads like a novel. We All Wore Stars was divided into three sections: before, during, and after the war. Instead of focusing solely on the concentration camps, the book shares the memories of a group of Holocaust survivors (and classmates of Anne Frank).  I found it so interesting to see how the different people spent their time in hiding (or not) during the war. It really is amazing to see how one event can affect so many in different ways. I was engrossed from the beginning. The writing style is casual, as if Mr. Coster was sitting on my couch recounting his tale, which makes this an easy to read book for all ages.
One of the most interesting elements of this book was the insight into the type of person Anne Frank was. She was described by her former classmates as flirty, vivacious, slightly conceited, and imprudent. Not at all the image I had in my head from her diary!  The stories that they each share helps create an image of Anne Frank like none I’ve encountered before. Everyone knows her name and her story, but there has been little insight into the type of person she was before the war. Until now… But the memories and insight don’t end with Anne. Her father was mentioned throughout the story as well. He was a remarkable man with a heart full of compassion. I admit I cried when I read how he reacted to the news that his girls died before the Liberation.

I wish I could find the words to fully describe this book and the impact it had on me. Unfortunately, there are no words that could come close to doing justice. One thing that I did take away from this book is that all of the people that were affected by the war are remarkable. Obviously, the fact that they survived these atrocities is amazing, but it’s more than that. Given everything they have been through, none of them harbor hate. Not a single drop. The theme of circumstance is what you make of it runs throughout this book. These people have every right to be angry and consumed by hate, but they chose a different path. Instead of focusing on being victims, they chose to embrace the life that they have. It’s inspiring. When I think of my worst day or my meager “terrible” circumstance, it dulls in comparison and really puts things into perspective.
As I’ve said, this book would be a great introduction to the Holocaust. The terror of this time in history is still evident on every page, but there is a message of hope as well. It’s powerful.

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