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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Emil and Karl
by Yankev Glatshteyn
Age Range: 9-11
Set in Vienna just before the start of the Second World War, two boys – Emil, who is Jewish and Karl who is an ‘Aryan’ - live in the same apartment block and become friends.
Karl’s communist father died because of his resistance to the Nazis and when Karl’s mother is also taken away he turns to his friend Emil. Emil, in turn, has not been in school due to the ‘racial laws’ that banned Jewish children from attending. Both boys end up alone when Emil’s mother has a break down after his father is arrested. Soon, she too is gone. The boys are looked after by the caretaker Josef and his wife Berta but they soon must move on. After several narrow escapes from the Nazi authorities their luck changes when they are befriended by Matilda and Hans who offer them food and shelter in their forest hideaway.
Yankev Glatshteyn was a Polish Jew who emigrated to America before the Second World War. After a visit to Poland in 1934 he wrote Emil and Karl in which he chillingly anticipated the Holocaust that was about to unfold. Emil and Karl’s story is one of compassion, friendship and triumph over adversity. Eloquently translated by Jeffrey Shandler, the only surprise is that it was not translated into English before 2007.