Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz

  • Carol Matas
  • Scholastic (Part of the Dear Canada series), 2013
Pieces of the Past

Pieces of the Past recounts a girl’s adaptation to Canada after being torn from her home in the Poland. Rose Rabinowitz finds herself in Winnipeg in 1948, having been sent to Canada as a war orphan. The new family that has taken her in includes a father, Saul, who is a psychiatrist. Saul encourages Rose to write in a diary about her war memories as a form of therapy and healing. Although initially reluctant, Rose begins to write down what she remembers about her home, her family, and the loss of her friends and, eventually, her siblings and parents during the war. She also annotates her adjustment to Canada: her attempts to fit in with her foster family, to make friends, and to understand the new culture she has joined.

The Dear Canada series allows readers to experience history at a personal, accessible level. The physical format of the books imitates a diary, and the first-person presentation gives the stories immediacy and page-turning interest. Pieces of the Past is no exception. Readers get into Rose’s head; we experience her fears, her frustration — and her small happinesses, too. The text moves quickly between Rose’s past and present, and by the end of the book, Rose’s future is promising but also realistic.

This is a powerful, deeply affecting book. It is sensitively written but doesn’t pull its punches. I found the scenes of the slow destruction of Rose’s family harrowing. After running and hiding for months, Rose escapes alone while her mother is captured and murdered; Rose then suffers survivor guilt and wonders whether she too should die. Arriving in Canada, Rose carries a sharp awareness of anti-Semitism, and the bullying she experiences reminds her of the Nazis and their supporters. It’s important for nine- to twelve-year-old readers to learn about this period of history, but readers may need to talk with others about their experience of this text or about questions they may have about the Holocaust and its aftermath. The back matter provides excellent context, including well-chosen black-and-white photographs.

Carol Matas has written two previous books in the Dear Canada series: Footsteps in the Snow, about the Selkirk Settlement in the Red River Valley, and Turned Away, about a family fighting to bring relatives to Canada from France during World War Two. Pieces of the Past is an outstanding addition to the series, and I recommend it highly.

This review was originally published in Resource Links, April 2013.