Tutti's Promise

A novel based on a family's true story of courage and hope during the Holocaust

Children - Grade 4th-6th
232 Pages
Reviewed on 12/19/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Tutti's Promise is an historical fiction novel for preteens and young adults written by K. Heidi Fishman. Ruth (Tutti) Lichtenstern was a small child when her parents moved from Germany to the Netherlands over their concerns about the political situation and rising anti-Semitism in their home country. Her father, Heinz, worked in the metals industry and had been able to continue managing his business after the move, and her parents had another child, a boy, Robbie, in their new country. Several years later, however, they realized that moving to the Netherlands would not protect them from Hitler and the Nazis -- they had not moved far enough away. All of the attempts they and their friends made to protect them failed to stop their eventual transfer to a Jewish building, and then to a Nazi camp.

According to the author's note, only five percent of the Jews living in the Netherlands, who had been sent to a camp, survived the experience. While a number of Jews were able to go into hiding and weren't sent to camps, only 25 percent of the approximately 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands before the war survived. Tutti's family, her parents, brother, and paternal grandparents were able to stay together, for the most part, throughout the year and a half they were in the camp system. Tutti is still active in speaking at schools to share her experiences during the war; her daughter, realizing this is the last generation of children who will actually get to hear the words of the survivors, and wanting her mother's tale to go on being told, wrote this book. She includes her family's tree, a glossary of foreign words and phrases, mostly in German, and Historical Notes organized by chapter.

I have read many survivors' accounts and historical fiction novels based on the Second World War and the Holocaust. It's hard but ultimately so inspiring to hear the stories of those who did make it through the impossible and unthinkable, especially those like Tutti, who have made it their life's work to inform succeeding generations, to ensure that their experiences at the hands of their fellow human beings is never forgotten. The more recent memoirs and novels such as this are memorable as they have been written by those who were children when sent to the camps -- the rare few who somehow escaped the literal death sentence passed on children and the elderly before ever walking through the gates of the camps. Why never forget? Because there's an ever present danger of the marginalization of others, of deciding that some are less human or less deserving of dignity, respect and life because of their religion, race or other status.

Reading Tutti's Promise makes Tutti and her family's struggles during their time in the camps and afterwards so real. There are so many poignant and unforgettable moments: Max's easing the terrifying train ride with his comedy and joking, Heinz's last-minute reprieve from that final train ride east to Auschwitz, Robbie's jubilation at finding treats -- the cast-off orange peels left by camp guards. Best of all is the shared triumph of those who did survive and remembrance of those who perished. Tutti's Promise may be historical fiction based on fact, but it rings as true and memorable as any memoir I've read. While it's listed as children's literature and will particularly appeal to the young, given Tutti’s age and outlook on her experiences, I recommend it most highly for readers of all ages.

Marta Tandori

Tutti’s Promise is a poignant and at times heartbreaking true account of one family’s ordeal of survival during the Holocaust in the Netherlands. The story is told through the eyes of the Lichtenstern’s eldest child, Tutti, and what gives the book even more impact is the array of old family photos and documents saved by the Lichtenstern family. The book is written by Tutti’s daughter, K. Heidi Fishman, and targets young readers.

Heinz Lichtenstern, his wife, Margret, and their young daughter, Ruth (Tutti), and the two sets of grandparents were Jews living in Germany. Heinz and his father, Oscar, worked in a metals trading company called Oxyde, whose owner was also Jewish. In 1935, when the Nazis decreed that Jews were no longer German citizens, the owner of Oxyde decided to relocate his business to Amsterdam and the Lichtenstern family, along with both sets of grandparents, moved to Amsterdam as well where Tutti’s brother, Robbie, was born a few years later. However, in 1940 when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Tutti’s family discovers with horror that they haven’t moved far enough from the clutches of the Nazis.

Tutti’s idyllic life is soon turned upside down when the family is forced to move several times, each time into smaller apartments, and soon the Nazis force the Jews to follow new rules, making life exceedingly difficult. Curfews are imposed, all Jews over the age of six must wear yellow stars sewn onto their clothing, and soon Jews can no longer own any businesses. Rumors begin to swirl around them of forced deportations to Polish work camps and ghastly living conditions in Polish ghettos. Tutti’s father, along with close family and friends, scrape together as much money as they can before Heinz contacts a close family friend to give him the money with the hope that he can secure South American passports for him and his family, his parents and in-laws, as well as their close friends. The friend leaves with the money, promising to do what he can. In the meantime, conditions around Tutti and her family continue to deteriorate, with raids in Jewish neighborhoods becoming commonplace. Families are being removed to two transit camps, Westerbork and Vught, with many other Jewish refugees ultimately being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau – one of three extermination camps in Poland. It is during one of these raids that both sets of Tutti’s grandparents are taken away. Until now, Tutti’s father has managed to keep the family safe, but in September, 1943, it appears as though their luck has run out when he receives the letter he has been dreading; that he and his family are being sent to the transit camp, Westerbork, and that they must report to police headquarters the next day. It is then that Tutti and her family go underground, deciding to hide at the house of Heinz’s trusted co-worker. Little do any of them know that their horrific ordeal has only just begun…

What makes Tutti’s Promise so compelling is the point of view through which the story is told. Since it’s told through the eyes of Tutti, who is a young girl at the time, the reader is aware of the changes that are taking place, as told by Tutti. Her parents’ fears are palpable, but controlled as both parents, especially Margret, strive to keep life as normal as possible for Tutti and her brother, even when they are at the transit camp, Westerbork. With disease and illness running rampant throughout the camp, Margret makes the children wake up in the middle of the night to wash in order to stay clean since keeping clean means keeping healthy. The unexpected reunions with the grandparents were wonderful surprises while the five-note whistle Heinz’s family had always used to find each other in a crowd also proved instrumental in these reunions. The random acts of kindness also made an impression, like the episode at the camp when one of the guards, who had been a waiter Heinz had been kind to in the earlier days, gave Heinz an opportunity to steal some vegetables so that Heinz’s family could have better food.

While this story is certainly one of courage, perseverance, determination and hope, it’s also a story that illustrates how resourceful humans can be when their lives are on the line. Whether you’re young or older, Tutti’s Promise is one of those books that will stay with you for a long time.

Geree McDermott

The true story of Tutti’s Promise by K. Heidi Fishman is a riveting tale about the Holocaust, told from the perspective of a little Jewish girl named Tutti. At the outbreak of WWII, Tutti’s family finds themselves in perilous danger and hide with sympathetic friends. When Tutti’s father obtains a false passport for the family, he believes they are safe, but they are not. Little Tutti doesn’t understand why she has new restrictive rules, but she is brave and adjusts to a life of deprivation in the concentration camp. Tutti’s family endures horrific hardships, but they do what they can to survive. She and her younger brother are ecstatic when they discover orange peels tossed onto the ground by prison guards; her father lowers himself to steal vegetables at great risk; her mother gets the children out of bed at four in the morning to bathe with cold water in her attempt to keep them as healthy as she can. Having experienced dreadful adversities, Tutti makes a special promise.

Tutti’s daughter, K. Heidi Fishman, does a magnificent job telling the heartbreaking story of Tutti’s Promise. It is flawlessly written and heartrendingly real, complete with authentic historic documentation and photographs, translations, and an informative glossary. As distressing as it was to read about Tutti and her family’s fear, pain, anxiety, and suffering, I was completely engrossed and could not put it down. I have read other true stories about the Holocaust, but none touched my soul as Tutti’s Promise has.