“Yes, Mädchen. You’re so smart.”
Tutti Lichtenstern was an infant when her family left Germany in 1936. By then, the Nazis had been passing anti-Jewish laws for three years and had stripped Jews of their citizenship, so Tutti’s family fled to the Netherlands. The Lichtensterns thought they’d be safe in Amsterdam, but four years later, they realized they hadn’t moved far enough: on May 10, 1940, the Dutch army surrendered to the Germans, and Tutti and her family, along with all the other Jews, faced life-changing restrictions . . . and then, mortal danger.
In October 1943, believing that their newly acquired Paraguayan passport would protect them, the family came out of hiding; but they were nevertheless deported to Westerbork, a camp in the Netherlands, where Tutti’s father, a metals trader, made himself useful. The camp sorted metals for the Third Reich’s war machine. With the help of a non-Jewish friend on the outside, Tutti’s father not only protected his family but by increasing productivity helped save hundreds of his fellow Jews’ lives by putting them to work sorting and—to stymie the Nazis—mixing up the metals. Eventually, though, the family was deported to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.
With every page of this excellent novel of survival are stories about Tutti’s acts of bravery, friends who risked their lives for others, and poignant moments of selflessness and sweetness. The family’s secret signal, a loud five-note whistle, comes into play throughout the book, connecting the Lichtensterns to each other—at dramatic moments of separation and reunion—and to the reader.
Young readers will learn history through this personal story, which is told chronologically through short chapters. The fact that 75% of the Jews in the Netherlands perished makes this narrative even more remarkable. Each chapter is enhanced with photographs and documents, which add authenticity to this powerful account written by Tutti’s daughter. History comes alive in Fishman’s capable hands as a writer telling the story of her mother and achieving the family’s eternal desire to always remember.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review of Books
book review by Michelle Jacobs
“[A] gripping tale. . . . The spirited, realistic dialogue brings the characters to life, and the documents . . . enhance without cluttering the flow. . . . That the family survived to have this powerful, heartening tale told cannot fail to move readers.”
“Tutti’s Promise is an engrossing story of hope, family, survival, and identity. What’s more, K. Heidi Fishman’s meticulously researched novel blends drama with facts, inspiring the engaged reader to seek answers through a palpable emotional connection to the past. By drawing the reader into the extraordinary experiences of her family, the author offers us the opportunity to see in her characters our very own selves and loved ones.”
— Stephen D. Smith, PhD, Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Endowed Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education, and Adjunct Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California
“Relevant and important…Heidi Fishman tells the true story of her family’s struggle to stay together and stay alive during man’s darkest period in history. Every Holocaust story should be told, and this one is done well, with heart, and through the sweet innocence of a child’s eyes. Tutti’s Promise will linger long after you’ve put down the book.”
— Rhonda Fink-Whitman, author of 94 Maidens, creator of The Mandate Video, and national Holocaust education advocate
“. . . truly inspiring . . .”
“Tutti’s Promise is a compelling story for all readers about one family’s remarkable tale of survival during the Holocaust. K. Heidi Fishman does a masterful job of weaving together Holocaust history with the account of Tutti and her family, while writing the manuscript in a style that is completely accessible for a middle-school audience. The book fills an important gap in the available literature on the subject and should reach a wide readership.
“. . . remarkable . . .”
“Fishman dramatizes her mother’s World War II survival story in this debut novel.
The Netherlands, 1940. German forces have crossed the Dutch border and are seizing control of the country. The family of 5-year-old Ruth “Tutti” Lichtenstern—German Jews who had moved to Amsterdam in hopes of escaping Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies—attempts to live normally, but the clan soon gets wind from a friend that Hitler has big changes planned for the Netherlands’ Jewish businesses: “First, the firms will have to register,” and once Germans “are in control of the companies, they will ship the Jewish workers and owners to Poland.” Tutti notices changes herself: she is forced to attend a new school exclusively for Jewish students, and she must wear a yellow star whenever she is outside the house. At first, Tutti’s father’s position in the metals industry protects the family from deportation—though it doesn’t save her grandparents, who are collected during a Nazi raid. Despite her father’s efforts to keep them safe, the Lichtensterns are caught on a terrible path that leads them to the Westerbork transit camp. While there, Tutti’s father tells her he’s hidden some money in her doll and that she must keep that fact a secret (“ ‘I promise,’ she told him solemnly. ‘I’ll take care of her…and I won’t tell anyone’ ”). Eventually, the Lichtensterns are sent to Theresienstadt. After the long years of their deteriorating situation, Tutti attempts to keep a vow to her mother: “To always try to do good in the world—by speaking up when you see evil, and by behaving in a way that you know is right.” Fishman tells the tale of her mother’s family with elegance and a great sense of suspense. The choice to novelize the account, rather than present it as pure nonfiction, helps to flesh out the characters in a way that makes them more fully realized on the page. Photographs of Tutti and her family are featured throughout the work, reminding the reader that the events being recounted really happened. While some of the material will undoubtedly be disturbing for younger readers (the book jacket recommends ages 10 and up), the novel expertly captures the gradual creep of government-driven persecution in a way that should help children internalize Tutti’s story.
An adeptly constructed Holocaust work based on family history.”
— KIRKUS REVIEW
“An essential read. . .”
“Tutti’s daughter, K. Heidi Fishman, does a magnificent job telling the heartbreaking story of Tutti’s Promise. It is flawlessly written and heartrendingly real, complete with authentic historic documentation and photographs, translations, and an informative glossary. As distressing as it was to read about Tutti and her family’s fear, pain, anxiety, and suffering, I was completely engrossed and could not put it down. I have read other true stories about the Holocaust, but none touched my soul as Tutti’s Promise has.”
— Geree McDermott for Readers’ Favorite
— Tom White, Coordinator of Educational Outreach, Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Keene, New Hampshire
This artfully cast, two-hundred-page novel is a superb portrayal of one family’s courage, resilience, and fortitude during the Holocaust. It is the true story of the Lichtensterns, a close-knit German-Jewish family, who settle in Amsterdam in the thirties, hoping to avoid Nazi persecution. But when the Netherlands falls to the Third Reich too, their hopes are dashed.Little Tutti, five years old at the time of the German invasion, is nine years old by the war’s end. The family initially endures tightened restrictions on their lives in Amsterdam, but is eventually deported to Westerbork and finally to Theresienstadt before they are liberated. Written simply but beautifully, the novel alternates from Tutti’s point of view (Why can’t I play with my friends after curfew? Why do I have to go to an all-Jewish school and wear this star? How can I help by protecting my doll?) to her parents’ (How can we get a passport to escape Europe? How do we feed our family, protect our children and parents, and survive these camps?). Tutti’s parents, Heinz and Margret, find ingenious ways to provide for their children, Tutti and Robbie, and to keep their hopes alive. Margret is a calm voice of reassurance in the most horrible of situations. (“She used her happy voice . . . the same voice she used when she wanted Tutti to eat her carrots.”) Heinz, able to leave camp on a pass, purchases a doll for Tutti, in which he hides money the family will desperately need. He asks Tutti to promise to keep the doll and their fortunes safe. She does that and much more.The Lichtensterns endure humiliation, hunger, squalor, disease, and the death of grandparents and a favorite uncle, but their hardships are counterbalanced by their own resourcefulness and acts of kindness from others who help keep them afloat: a Dutch friend who manages to get them a Paraguayan passport, a German guard who arranges for Heinz to get more food because he remembers how well Heinz tipped him when he was headwaiter at a Berlin hotel before the war. Indeed, the great virtue of “Tutti’s Promise” is that author K. Heidi Fishman (Tutti’s daughter) does not linger on horror, but has presented the family overcoming these grave obstacles in the context of hope. That perfectly rendered balance makes this book a fine choice for fourth to eighth graders.— Mary Beth Klee, Review for the Core Virtues website
“Tutti’s Promise may be historical fiction based on fact, but it rings as true and memorable as any memoir I’ve read. While it’s listed as children’s literature and will particularly appeal to the young, given Tutti’s age and outlook on her experiences, I recommend it most highly for readers of all ages.”
— Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite
“Compelling . . .”
“While this story is certainly one of courage, perseverance, determination and hope, it’s also a story that illustrates how resourceful humans can be when their lives are on the line. Whether you’re young or older, Tutti’s Promise is one of those books that will stay with you for a long time.”
— Marta Tandori for Readers’ Favorite
” . . . beautifully put together.”
Tutti’s Promise is a wonderful book for familiarizing children with the actual experience of internment in concentration camps during the Holocaust. This book would be a great companion piece for the classic Anne Frank’s Diary, providing us with the personal experience of Tutti Lichtenstern, a little girl who lived through the Holocaust imprisoned at first Westerbork and then at Theresienstadt. Tutti, or Ruth, who not only survived but now lectures on the Holocaust in schools, was truly one of the lucky ones, since so few Jewish people who were sent to camps managed to survive until the end of the war. Millions died, only a few thousands survived, the Lichtensterns among them. Tutti, her brother, parents and paternal grandparents are amazingly lucky. Their poignant story of their struggle to survive, and of their family that was lost along the way, is driven home with visuals, with language info, all in a fashion that is accessible for younger teens.
This book is beautifully put together. Most of all, it is so very timely. It should be read in schools, children’s book clubs, and dare I say, by adults?
Notes: Really an excellent book. The visuals are great and poignant.
Tutti’s Promise is an amazing story of a young girl and her family as they fight to survive the Holocaust. It is written from the point of view of the child. This is what captured me. I have read many books on the Holocaust survival and they have all be brilliant bringing out stories of strength, endurance and survival beyond human belief. I found Tutti’s Promise to be all this, and more, as a child’s account of her parent’s courage and strength unveiled.
Amonst all the trials, Tutti’s father is able to buy her a doll of which he places all the money they have into the head chamber. Tutti is then given the doll for her birthday. Along with the doll comes the promise and challenge of never letting the doll from her protection, no matter what the circumstance. I was touched by this. As lists are placed on walls with the names of prisoners destined for the gas chambers, the last thing one would want would be their child screaming over a doll. But, this was the family’s future survival source. As a mother I thought of what I would have my children do. One then quickly realizes the hope of the father and mother, and the strength of a daughter no matter how young.
The father amazed me in this novel. He never gave up trying every resource available to him as he endeavoured to keep his family in the right places. He managed to just scrape through many events. The family also struggled to keep extended family together, but never stopped in the effort to bring each family member back together. It was a story that showed unbelievable family strength and connection.
For any middle grader, this book is a brilliant piece of history that will far exceed many history texts in the education of Holocaust survival. The writing from a childs perspective, gives strength to the story. The photos at the end show the family, Tutti, and her doll, all bring a sense of life to the book. I would like to see this book used as a piece of educational history by teachers presenting the topic which remains a bit of history that continues to be told and shock every generation. This is a piece of history that needs to be learnt from so it never surfaces again, to any degree, in the future.
Notes: Absolutely brilliant piece of literature
An inspiring story of family, hope, and redemption. I love that this story is told from the perspective of a young girl (the author’s mother). I guess you don’t realize how different an experience a horrible time is for adults and children. Tutti’s parents do their best to keep the unexplainable truth from their children. Tutti’s family maintains a strenth and faith that not many could sustain. Tutti’s story will surprise you. I have had the privilege of meeting Eva Mozes Kor. I would love to meet Tutti and tell her how inspiring she is.
*Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for allowing me to read this story in exchange for an honest review
I loved that I was able to see this experience from both Tutti’s and her parents’ perspective. This story will inspire you and help you to remember to forgive those who have done you wrong. I would love to meet Tutti and tell her how much I loved her story.
A truly inspiring story of a brave family during the Holocaust. I have no doubts that Tutti`s Promise will be as thought provoking as Anne Frank’s diary. An essential read for all older children learning about WW 2.
Touching, heartbreaking, remarkable. This is one of the top must reads if you are interested in this time in History.