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When We Were Shadows by Janet Wees

When We Were Shadows

post written by Emma Filbrun

When We Were Shadows by Janet WeesTitle: When We Were Shadows
Author: Janet Wees
Series: Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers
Major Themes: Dutch Resistance, Germany, Holocaust, Holland, Jews, World War II
Synopsis: Walter tried to make sense out of hiding from the Nazis with his Jewish family by writing about his experiences to his grandmother.

Just when you start thinking that all the stories that will be told from the Holocaust have been told, along comes a new one with a completely different experience than the others you have read! When We Were Shadows is one of those. This book is told from the point of view of a boy who was only 5 ½ years old when his Jewish family fled Germany during Hitler’s rise to power.

Walter and his father and mother, older sister and grandmother, fled from Germany to Holland in 1937 when they could see trouble coming. They rebuilt their lives—but in 1940 Germany invaded Holland and their nightmare began. The family divided up and hid; Walter stayed with his parents as the Underground hid them in one place after another. He made sense of his life by writing letters to Oma (his grandmother) when he could.

The series of hiding places Walter and his family found themselves in was quite varied—a camper in the forest and a village the refugees built for themselves deep in another. There was always the fear of being discovered by the Nazis, wondering where Oma and Walter’s older sister were, and learning how to survive in a new place when the Underground moved the family for their safety. The way this story is told makes it really come to life.

This is a true story, told by Walter to the author. It is illustrated with photographs of Walter’s life. This is an incredible account of survival during the Holocaust, quite different from others I have read in a lot of ways. This is one I would like to own a physical copy of!

Though When We Were Shadows takes place during a war, and there is violence mentioned a lot of times, it is not very graphic. The main focus of this story is the day-to-day struggle to survive and remain sane. I would not hesitate to read this one aloud to children eight and older, with some guidance, of course.

I received a free ecopy of this book from NetGalley, and chose to write a review.

WARNING: As I mentioned, there are references to violence, as the Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews.

Age Levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 13
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15, 15 and Above


Links to buy When We Were Shadows:

Amazon: Paperback | Kindle

AbeBooks: View Choices on

Book Depository: Paperback


Dutch Resistance, Germany, Holocaust, Holland, Jews, World War II

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