“Chance” by Uri Shulevitz

“Chance: Escape from the Holocaust” by Uri Shulevitz

One thing that has been on my mind for the past 4 years is the rise of fascism in the U.S. You cannot ignore it and it isn’t hyperbolic to wonder how close America came to becoming Nazi Germany. I noticed this book by “chance” at the library and immediately picked it up. I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and how every day people resisted, or managed to escape, it.

Uri Shulevitz is a Caldecott Award-winning illustrator and picture book author. He is now 85-years-old and this memoir recounts his days in Poland, Turkestan, and France when he was a child escaping the Holocaust with his parents. Impressionist drawings and some photographs accompany the text. I would say this is not a strictly children’s book because there is a lot of cruelty, the kind that hits you when you look back as an adult.

One of the biggest connections I drew from Shulevitz to the U.S. today is when he mentioend how lucky he was to go through this ordeal with his parents. The U.S. separates children from their parents at the border. Both are escaping from home countries that have become inhabitable for them. Uri’s parents left him at several points during their journey from Poland to Turkestan because of illness, work opportunity, or being captured. Nonetheless, they managed to return.

That his family stayed intact and that he survived to become an artist is the theme of “Chance.” If he had not been named Uri, his father would have gotten USSR passports. If they had Soviet passports, they would have remained in Belarus. If they had stayed in Belarus, they would have been taken by the invading Nazis and died.

It goes to show that our survival had little to do with our own decisions. Rather, it was blind chance deciding our fate.

p. 249, Chance by Uri Shulevitz

It is the same with DREAMers and immigrants from Central America coming to the United States. Their survival has to do with the mercy of ICE, of Senators, of the President — people who have no idea who they are and what is at stake. Uri said that even after the Nazis had been defeated and his family moved to Paris, he was called a “dirty foreigner” by other children, and only seen as a Parisian outside of Paris. That resonates with how Americans see each other and the many divisions and cultural wars that you fight, even when you are technically “safe.”

My biggest takeaway from “Chance” is that safety is a gift and we are always one disaster, one chance away from fascism taking over. We can be vigilant and put in every effort, but safety is not guaranteed.