Under other circumstances, Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Ofra Amit (Carolrhoda, Sept.), could seem like a modern-day fairy tale with the requisite happy ending—two young people are kept apart, but are finally reunited after a long separation.
However, set against the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi death camps, this story is no fairy tale. Angel Girl is based on a real-life love story—though this one does include a fairy godmother: none other than Oprah Winfrey, who on her show called it the greatest love story ever told. Herman and Roma Rosenblat, the couple whose story was adapted by Friedman in Angel Girl, first told their story to the world on The Oprah Winfre Show in 1996, and are scheduled to visit her again next February.
Friedman, the author of the popular Mallory McDonald series, also published by Lerner, decided to write Angel Girl after reading a newspaper article about Herman Rosenblat, who, at the age of 11, was taken from his Polish village and incarcerated in a Nazi work camp in Germany, where he barely survived on meager daily rations of watery soup. One day, a girl standing just outside the camp’s fence threw him an apple. For months afterward, the girl returned to the same spot each day, throwing food to Rosenblat, until the day he left the camp. Rosenblat came to think of the mysterious young stranger who had saved him from starvation as his “angel girl.”
Herman and Roma Rosenblat, married 50 years this September.
After being liberated in 1945, Rosenblat went to England and eventually made his way to New York City, where, more than a decade after the war’s end, he met a young woman named Roma Radzika on a blind date. She, like himself, was a Polish immigrant. As they spoke of where they’d been during the war, Radzika mentioned having lived near a Nazi work camp, adding that, each day, she’d thrown food to a boy inside that camp. As Rosenblat told her that while incarcerated in a Nazi work camp, a girl had thrown food to him each day, the two realized that she had been that girl, and he had been that boy.
After reading about the couple’s miraculous reunion in the newspaper, Friedman says she wanted to share their story with children because she wants young readers to realize that “sometimes happy endings spring forth from dark beginnings.”
Explaining why she would want to set a picture book during the Holocaust, Friedman declares, “Many atrocities took place during World War II. Though rooted in tragedy, Herman and Roma’s story is about love and hope.” And Lindsay Chall, senior publicist at Lerner Publishing Group, adds, “It’s not just about the Holocaust. It’s also about the strength of the human spirit.”
The Rosenblats, who live in Florida now, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary later this year—Herman Rosenblat told Bookshelf that he proposed marriage to his wife that night during their blind date, and that she had said yes to him that very night. He has spoken to school groups in Florida, California and Texas, saying he feels strongly that children should hear his story, to help them learn tolerance. “A children’s book can influence more children than I could ever speak to,” he says. “I went through a lot in my life in my life. If someone lived 300 years, they wouldn’t go through what I went through. I speak to children in the schools to give them hope and love. That’s what they need: they need to live with love and they need to tolerate everybody, even the people who hate you.”
Angel Girl isn’t the only work inspired by the Rosenblats’ love story. A movie, The Flower of the Fence, begins filming this fall. And Rosenblat is writing his memoirs, called Angel at the Fence, scheduled for publication by Berkley Books next February.
Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Ofra Amit. Carolrhoda, $16.95 978-0-8225-8739-2