Book review by Aarene Storms - Chance: escape from the Holocaust

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Chance: escape from the Holocaust  
by Uri Shulevitz

...if our Warsaw apartment hadn't had flowered wallpaper, I wouldn't have stared at the flowers and I wouldn't have been named Uri.

If my name hadn't been Uri, we would've gotten Soviet passports.

If we had Soviet passports, we would have remained in Belarus, where Father had work and we had an apartment.

By remaining in Belarus, we would have been swept away by the invading Nazis and sent back to Poland to die with the rest of our family....

Uri Shulevitz tells the story of his early childhood, from the time that German bombs started falling on Warsaw through years of hunger and fear, recounting the setbacks and lucky breaks that brought him, eventually, to his career as a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator and author of books for children.

This is not a "normal" Holocaust book: the family avoided the horrors of concentration camps simply because of a bureaucratic snafu, but they didn't live in luxury while others suffered: they suffered from illness and starvation as refugees for more than eight years. 

Although the text is aimed at middle grade readers, I found myself drawn into this compelling narrative and unwilling to look at anything else until I had finished the book. Shulevitz tells his story as a child might have told it at the time, with simple reflections on the random chances that saved his family. The illustrations complement the text without drawing attention away from the events.  

Highly recommended memoir for ages 10 to adult. Uri Shulevitz has also published two picture book memoirs for younger children: How I Learned Geography (about a time his father couldn't find food to buy, and bought a beautiful map instead) and When I Wore My Sailor Suit (about life in pre-war Poland). 
Aarene Storms is a librarian who reads and reviews books for all ages. She can be reached at


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