The Flag with Fifty-Six Stars
Susan Goldman Rubin
Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Ages 8 to 12
Holiday House, 2005, 0-8234-2019-1
When he arranged to have the labor camp at Mauthausen built, Heinrich Himmler was determined that no one would leave the camp alive. Inmates were treated with great cruelty and they had to work hard in the nearby granite quarries. Later Himmler had underground factories built and the prisoners worked in these as well building planes and weapons for the German war machine.
The prisoners came from many of the countries that the Germans had occupied. Though many gave up and died under the brutal treatment that they suffered, some were determined to survive. They even found ways to fight back against their oppressive captors, sabotaging the machines that they were forced to build.
By the spring of 1945 the Nazis finally came to accept that they were going to lose the war. The inmates at Mauthausen wondered if they would be able to hold on long enough to be liberated by the Allied troops. Listening to homemade radios, the prisoners kept track of what was happening in the world outside, praying that the Americans would arrive soon. To help pass the time the prisoners began to prepare for the arrival of the American soldiers learning to play “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They also began to work on making an American flag which they hoped they would soon be able to give to their liberators.
This incredibly moving and powerful story is not just an account of what happened in Mauthausen but it is also a tribute to those who managed to survive and to fight back in their own quiet way. Though readers will be horrified to hear of how the prisoners were treated by their captors, they will also be heartened to read about the ways in which the prisoners kept themselves going. Surely everyone who saw the liberation of the camps and the handing over of the flag will never forget that very special moment in human history.
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