The Safest Lie

Written by Angela Cerrito
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

With her novel set in Poland during the Holocaust, Angela Cerrito tells the story of Anna Bauman (aka Karwolska), a nine-year-old Jew who lives in the Warsaw ghetto with her parents. Life in the ghetto is difficult—not enough food, constant threat from Nazi soldiers, threadbare clothing—but for Anna, being with her family is enough. Unfortunately, Anna’s world is about to change.

In order to protect her from the Nazis, Anna’s parents send her away, after teaching her Catholic customs, because Anna is going to a Catholic orphanage under a new name—Karwolska. In the orphanage, Anna meets many girls of all ages: some kind, others not. Slowly, Anna settles into her new routine, being Anna Karwolska during the day, but haunted by Anna Bauman at night. She struggles to remember her family, their words and faces.

Though Anna adjusts to life at the orphanage, she doesn’t stay there for long. Soon, she is adopted by a Polish family from the country, where Nazi soldiers enter any house at will to procure what food is available. Anna lives in fear that her secret will be discovered and she, along with her adoptive family, will be shot by the Nazis.

The story is based on the work done by the real-life Irene Sendler, a woman who rescued over 2500 Jewish children by masquerading them as Catholic orphans. The author was able to travel to Poland to visit Ms. Sendler, and this experience informs the book. In the publisher’s literature about the book, the target readers are from 8-12. And, though the book is well-written, because of the harrowing nature of some of the events, I would recommend this for the more mature child.