Because I Can
(Lulu Press, Nov. 1, 2008)
It's 1958 and eleven-year-old Peter Wolf lives in the war-rubble squalor of East Germany which is ruled with an iron fist by the Soviet Communists. In Peter's world, soccer matches in the cobblestone streets are interrupted by Russian tanks clattering through their midst and live hand grenades still lie rusting in the dirt in vacant lots. People stand in long lines to buy rancid meat, water pails are kept on toilet lids to prevent sewer rats from invading apartments and, worst of all, every citizen is encouraged to spy upon every other citizen and report any suspect behavior to the hated Stassi (Secret Police). It is an existence so mind-numbingly desperate and deplorable that Peter's father commits suicide rather than face the hopelessness of his life. Then Peter's older sister defects to the West leaving Peter and his mother, Johanna, behind to be labeled "traitors to the state." The future is bleak and Johanna knows their only hope for any happiness is to plan and execute a daring escape. But after risking their lives escaping East Germany, surviving a kidnapping attempt, enduring six long months in a refugee camp and crossing the Atlantic in steerage, Peter discovers America is not the paradise he had envisioned. Peter is enrolled in a school that is 95% Jewish where he is reviled by a group of bullies intent on making the "Kraut's" life miserable. Then Peter learns of the Holocaust, a subject of which he had absolutely no previous knowledge and, suddenly, he understands why he is hated. But then one gangly, awkward boy, Leon Stern, befriends Peter and teaches the rest of the school a lesson in tolerance no one will ever forget.