Farewell to Uri Orlev, the survivor who narrated the Shoah to the boys

by time news

Israeli writer Uri Orlev, an internationally renowned author of novels and children’s stories where the Holocaust is a recurring theme, died on Tuesday 26 July at the age of 91 in Jerusalem.

“The State of Israel has lost one of the greatest children’s and youth writers, Uri Orlev, who has written more than 40 books in his lifetime,” said Prime Minister Yair Lapid. “Our children have grown up with these books. Uri’s memories of the Shoah and Israel have taught them our story. Uri is dead, but his books and legacy will remain with us forever. “

From the horrors of the Second World War, which he witnessed as a survivor of the deportation to the Nazi concentration camps, Orlev drew the material of his narrative: for the boys he told the Holocaust in adventurous books, where the little protagonists learn to be afraid but also to distinguish good from evil and above all to resist. His children’s books are translated into thirty-eight languages. Among the prestigious awards received by the writer, the Andersen Prize in 1996, the Zeev Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2002 and the Cento Prize in 2003. Numerous volumes of his have been published in Italian: from Salani “Corri boy, corri”, “L’isola in via degli Uccelli “,” The search for a happy land “,” Siamina. The incredible friendship between a wandering cat and a dog “,” The shadow beast “,” Sand game “,” The dragon’s crown “, “Lydia, queen of the promised land”, “How difficult it is to be in a lion”; from Feltrinelli “L’aggiustasogni”, “The grandfather who fixed dreams”, “Incredible stories for children ready for adventure”: from Rizzoli “The lead soldiers”. Giuntina published “Poems written at thirteen in Bergen-Belsen (1944)”.

Born in Warsaw on February 24, 1931 to a Jewish family like Jerzy Henryk (Jurek) Orlowski, after losing his mother, killed by the Nazis, he was deported together with his brother and aunt to the Bergen-Belsen camp, where Anne Frank also died. author of the famous Diary. He remained in the concentration camp, escaping hunger and typhus epidemics, until the arrival of the American liberators on April 15, 1945. Moving to a kibbutz in Israel, where he remained until 1962, he found his father, who survived the imprisonment, but only in 1954. .

To the very young Uri Orlev is able to narrate the war and the Holocaust with the passionate rhythm of adventure and even, sometimes, with the veil of humor. Thus in “The Soldiers of Lead” (1956) the protagonists Yurek and Kazik are two Jewish brothers whose Nazi fury tears away relatives and friends. In a world that is unraveling under the blows of hatred and violence, the only stable element seems to be their favorite game, that of tin soldiers, a metaphor for an innocence that would like to resist the advance of horror.

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In “The shadow beast” (1976) the writer confronts the fears of children, who often check before sleeping that no monster, fruit of their imagination, is hidden under the bed. On the other hand, “How difficult to be a lion” (1979) speaks of feeling more or less smart, in which the protagonist, who has been transformed into a big cat by a former magician with the appearance of a dog, cannot feel at ease or in Africa, neither exhibited in a booth, nor in the spotlight of American television.

“L’isola in via degli Uccelli” (1981) – perhaps Orlev’s most successful – is set in the Warsaw ghetto that the author knew very well. Here his alter ego Alex is eleven years old; the father is taken by the SS and the mother disappears, leaving him alone in a building partially destroyed by a bomb. Above, among the rooftops, Alex feels shipwrecked and his refuge is not so different from the island of Robinson Crusoe. Friday is a white mouse, who participates with him in the fight against cold and hardship, while down the street non-Jewish peers can go out and go to school in freedom.

Also in “Run boy, run” (2001), inspired by the true story of Yoram Friedman a boy who escaped persecution, the scenario is that of Nazism in Poland. At the age of eight, the protagonist loses his mother, and the last words of the murdered father are: “I order you to survive”. So he escapes the Warsaw ghetto and joins a gang of boys. So he finds shelter with peasants; who generous, who treacherous. He loses an arm because a doctor refuses to treat him as a Jew. In the name of his determination to save himself, Yoram almost erases the past, even his own identity as a Jew.

(by Paolo Martini)

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