Trapped in Hitler’s Web

Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Review by Alana White

1942 Ukraine and Austria. Eleven-year-old Maria Fediuk has a plan. What is now Ukraine and Poland are in the heart of the war zone between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. While Maria and her family may avoid persecution in her Nazi-occupied hometown in the Ukraine, her dear friend, Nathan, who is Jewish, faces grave danger. One possible means of survival for everyone is to sign up to work for the Nazis in a factory or on a farm in exchange for wages and food. Although it is risky, Maria encourages Nathan to hide his identity and sign on as a laborer, with her joining him for encouragement.

Maria’s plan goes immediately awry when a German soldier removes Nathan along with other boys from the train they are on and leaves her behind, her destination a farm in the heart of Hitler’s Reich in Austria. There, while heartsick about Nathan, Maria quickly learns she is considered no more than slave labor, walking a razor’s edge for survival.

Based on events from the author’s family history, Maria’s story shines light on yet another little-known part of World War II history and the evils of the Third Reich. Particularly heartbreaking is how (as the author says in a most welcome note) Nazism brainwashed children into believing they were better than anyone else, encouraging them to spy and report on friends and family and, sometimes, getting people killed. All is not bleak in Maria’s world, however. In the end, there is hope and the triumph of the human spirit. Age 8-12.