Paper Hearts is a beautiful novel in verse; it is the story of two young Jewish girls who become friends and survive Auschwitz. Zania and Flatka’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, particularly with the knowledge that this is “a novel based on true events.” In the face of cruelty, death, and horror, we also see the beauty of humanity, friendship, and love. The girls in Auschwitz have little to call their own and are constantly in fear of the guards, who will bring swift punishment to those who do not follow the rules. A small piece of silk or a hidden letter could bring death. And in the midst of the horror, the girls look for the beauty that ties them together, the love that will give them strength and hope to face another day. Zlatka found a way – through bartered paper and scissors, pens, she made an origami heart to celebrate her best friend’s birthday. All of the girls at the work tables signed the heart, wishing for freedom and happiness for all. Fania keeps this heart, treasured and hidden, while the girls continue to work, even through death marches. Eventually, Fania, Zlatka, and several other girls who signed the heart survived the death marches and returned to Poland. Fania emigrated to Canada with her husband many years later while Zlatka moved to Argentina. Fania kept the heart, which she donated to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre in 1988. The Heart is still on exhibit at the Memorial Centre.
Wiviott’s book is an easy one to read in one sitting. I found myself unable to put it down and the flow of the writing, in verse, adds to the readability. The language is amazing. Breathtaking and poignant. Wiviott’s words carry weight and power. Not only the story, but the language too stayed with me after the last page.
To fit in the palm of my hand.
To restore my faith.
The family I’d lost.
A reason to take risks.
A reason to keep living.”
Paper Hearts ends with a final poem “The Last Train” and the words “Never again.” The book also includes photos of Fania’s heart, a glossary (very helpful) and an author’s note about what is true in the story. There are many resources out there for learning more about Fania, Zlatka, and the paper heart.
The possibilities for Paper Hearts with young readers are numerous and this book will be a significant addition to the book shelves of Holocaust stories for both young readers and adults.
Resources for the Holocaust, Auschwitz, and the Heart
- The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre: The Heart from Auschwitz
- The Heart of Auschwitz
- The Heart from Auschwitz: Humanity in a Sea of Horror (Globe and Mail)
Have you read Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, Meg Wiviott’s picture book about Kristallnacht? Check out my blog post here.