Title: The Ones Who Loved Us
Entry Nickname: War and Redemption
Word Count: 80k
Genre: YA Historical
Budapest, Hungary -- 1944.
During the final months of World War II, Bekah’s grandmother calls her home from boarding school to help care for her overly critical and mentally ill mother. The army forces Bekah’s father into the labor service and then the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian Nazi party, takes her grandmother away. Bekah doesn’t know if she’s capable of holding what’s left of her family together, but she’s determined to try. Soon the Arrow Cross forces Bekah and the other Jews of Budapest into overcrowded apartments in what is the beginning of a plan to “cleanse” the city of Jewish blood.
With most train tracks destroyed, the Arrow Cross then forces Bekah and her mother to join thousands of other Jews on a death march across Hungary. It is the middle of winter and the Arrow Cross gives them barely any food or water and makes them sleep outside on the frozen ground. On the death march, Bekah fights to keep her weary and discontented mother alive. Despite Bekah’s efforts, an officer shoots her mother and leaves her to die in a ditch along the side of the road.
Bekah sinks into despair and feels all hope is lost, but then a daring Swedish diplomat arrives at the death march to save anyone with a protective pass. Bekah has a pass and longs to go home, but she also faces a difficult choice: whether to save herself or redeem her broken soul by saving someone else.
It took a war to bring me back to my mother.
I sat on my bed in the middle of the dormitory and looked at the envelope. My grandmother’s handwriting was graceful and measured, just like she was. I tore through the flap in one quick movement and the fragrance of her perfume brought me back to a time long ago when I would sit on her lap and listen to her stories. I pulled out the letter.
“Dear Bekah, I think of you often and hope you’re well.” Her greeting deceived me. It didn’t prepare me for what followed.
She said the Hungarian army had taken Papa away to a forced labor camp far outside of Budapest.
I dropped the letter. My eyes began to fill with tears but I wiped them away, picked up the letter, and continued to read.
She said Mother’s depression had become worse. Sometimes she didn’t talk or get out of bed for days.
I pressed my lips together tightly and thought how lucky I was to live on the other side of the city at boarding school.
But there was more. I held my breath as I read the next part.
“I know how important school is to you, Bekah, and I wouldn’t ask this if I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary. Would you please come home?”
I exhaled and struggled to breathe at a steady pace.
I didn’t read the rest of the letter. My tears made it impossible.
Title: This Is No Courtyard
Entry Nickname: Peace Pays What War Wins
Word count: 76K
Genre: YA Historical
Vuk is fourteen when the Nazis invade Yugoslavia. Unwilling to see his younger sisters grow up in a fascist country, Vuk joins the Partisans along with his older brother, Pedja. While hiding out in a hay barn, their unit is betrayed, and the brothers are arrested and sent to KZ Banjica.
After weeks of brutal interrogations, Vuk and Pedja are transferred to the north of Norway to build railways and roads for the German occupiers. When they learn Vuk will be shipped to Korgen and Pedja to Beisfjord, the brothers vow to escape and meet up in neutral Sweden.
But before Vuk can make good on his last promise to his brother, two other prisoners flee the Korgen-camp. The Nazis’ reprisals are swift and brutal: thirty-nine men are picked at random and mowed down with machine guns, while Vuk and the other prisoners are forced to watch.
As the Norwegian winter sets in, the conditions in camp worsen. Work on the road is hard, food is scarce, and the prisoners only have the clothes they came in. Emaciated and scared out of his mind, Vuk realizes if he’s to survive and ever meet his brother again, he has to escape. But running means sending dozens of his comrades to certain death.
THIS IS NO COURTYARD is based on narrations from Yugoslavian Partisans who managed to escape the Norwegian death camps and some of the people who helped them.
The man strolls down the dirt road in no particular hurry, and I wonder who died to put that smile on his face. It is chilly tonight, but the sky is clear. The sun sets the fjord on fire and highlights the gold in the bastard’s hair. He’s casually dressed in a brown air man jacket and loose-fitted trousers that billow in the breeze. One of his hands clutches a sixpence-hat, swinging gaily in cadence with his steps. The other is tucked into his trouser pocket. I don’t know if he’s armed, but who cares? He’s been drinking, and that will work in my favor.
I’m well hidden among the trees lining the road. Their mid-summer foliage tangles together, creating a dense wall of green, the perfect lookout. When he passes, I follow. The rustle of the wind masks the sound of my steps. Still he senses me and turns. It doesn’t matter. I’ll make my presence known soon enough.
Peering into the thicket, he sways ever so slightly, but he keeps both feet on the ground. My heart speeds up--in anticipation, I guess. This is it. I would recognize him anywhere. The slim nose, the smug mouth, and those eyes like the northern fjords. He’s handsome in that Scandinavian way. Fair, lean, tall. Clean cut features that would make a woman look pretty as well. A cliché of a man, if ever there was one, but what’s not to like?