Impossible Escape by Steve Sheinkin will stick with readers long after they finish this short narrative nonfiction book. I recommend it for upper-middle school, high school, and adults. It’s short and exciting, with real photos at the end. For this reason, I think it’s also a great choice for reluctant readers.
AUTHOR: Steve Sheinkin
PUBLISHER: Roaring Brook Press
PUBLICATION DATE: August 29, 2023
GENRE: narrative nonfiction
SETTING: Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary during WWII
GIVE IT TO: Grades 8+
AWARDS AND KUDOS
- five starred professional reviews
PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY OF IMPOSSIBLE ESCAPE
It is 1944. A teenager named Rudolf (Rudi) Vrba has made up his mind. After barely surviving nearly two years in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, he knows he must escape. Even if death is more likely.
Rudi has learned the terrible secret hidden behind the heavily guarded fences of concentration camps across Nazi-occupied Europe: the methodical mass killing of Jewish prisoners.
As trains full of people arrive daily, Rudi knows that the murders won’t stop until he reveals the truth to the world―and that each day that passes means more lives are lost.
Lives like Rudi’s schoolmate Gerta Sidonová. Gerta’s family fled from Slovakia to Hungary, where they live under assumed names to hide their Jewish identity. But Hungary is beginning to cave under pressure from German Nazis. Her chances of survival become slimmer by the day.
The clock is ticking. As Gerta inches closer to capture, Rudi and his friend Alfred Wetzler begin their crucial steps towards an impossible escape.
This is the true story of one of the most famous whistleblowers in the world, and how his death-defying escape helped save over 100,000 lives.
THE SHORT VERSION
Heartbreaking, suspenseful, and compelling.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT IMPOSSIBLE ESCAPE
I’ve read lots and lots of Holocaust fiction and nonfiction, and it seems that no matter what I read, there are still whole entire stories that I had never heard of. Rudi and Gerta’s stories are two of them. WOW.
I read this book compulsively over two days. It’s not very long, but its short pages pack an emotional punch. This tells the stories of two Jewish teens during the Holocaust, but it’s more Rudi’s story than Gerta’s.
The story alternates viewpoints between the Rudi and Gerta, but the larger focus is on Rudi and his multiple captures and escapes, culminating in his death-defying escape from Auschwitz.
Both Gerta and Rudi are so resourceful! They both escape and are captured and escape again several times. It’s an amazing true story of resistance and resourcefulness and survival.
Sheinkin includes a section near the end about Holocaust deniers, both during and after the war and today. Ugh, this part just made me so mad.
Stories like Rudi’s and Gerta’s need to be told and told and told again. Most Holocaust survivors would be in at least their 80s or 90s by now, and they are aging every day.
We absolutely could go down this road again, especially if people deny that it happened or don’t learn about it at all.
I loved Rudi’s grit and survival smarts. Gerta’s too, but readers don’t really experience Gerta’s situation like we experience Rudi’s.
At only 256 pages, some with photos and captions, this book is relatively short. It’s also quite exciting at times, particularly during Rudi’s and Fred’s dramatic escape. Impossible Escape would make a great choice for reluctant readers.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT IMPOSSIBLE ESCAPE
This is a sad and exciting story of escape. It’s a gut-wrenching read and makes me just sick about what society and human beings are capable of. Not a fun read, but an important one.
Gerta and Rudi are both Jewish teens from Slovakia. All other people are real-life Eastern Europeans, either Jews (or other concentration camp prisoners) or Nazis.
Black and white photos with captions of major players appear at the end.
- WWII, Holocaust, concentration camps, Auschwitz, prisoners, escapes, whistleblowers, survival
LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW
Would adults like this book? YES! This is an exciting true story.
Would I buy this for my high school library? YES, without reservations. This story needs to be known.
Would I buy this for my middle school library? YES, without reservations. Again, students need to know this story, and the Holocaust is commonly taught in 8th grade English and social studies curriculums. The content is difficult to read, but it’s not explicit.
Would I buy this for my elementary school library? NO, it’s not an elementary book.
Language: I am writing this review after returning my library book, but I do not remember profanity. It is quite possible that I’m not remembering it, but if it’s there, it isn’t gratuitous.
Sexuality: I remember no sexual content specifically, but I think there was some mention of guards getting favors from female prisoners
Violence: very high; beatings, murder, intentional starvation gun shootings; gas chambers are mentioned several times, with some detail on how they worked.
Drugs/Alcohol: mention of cigarettes