Annexed by Sharon Dogar

Annexed, by Sharon Dogar. Houghton Mifflin, 2010.  337 pages.

Reading Level: Young Adult, ages 12-15annexed

Maturity Level: Ages 15-18

Bottom Line: Annexed is the fictionalized story of Peter van Pels, Anne Frank’s fellow inmate, who offers a moving account of the Holocaust for teens, but no real hope.

Are you still there? Are you listening?  That’s the voice of Peter van Pels, the teenaged boy whose father was a business associate of Otto Frank. Peter and his parents, as is well known, sheltered with the Franks for two years in a small apartment hidden in a warehouse: the “annex.” This book is his story, as imagined by the author.  As it begins, he’s on the run. Instructed to go to the warehouse where his concealment will begin, instead he hurries to his girlfriend’s house, hoping at least for a goodbye kiss before escaping into the countryside. But within view of her house he sees a government van parked in front, and soon after the whole family is loaded up and taken away, leaving Peter feeling like a helpless nobody.  During his first weeks at the annex, he literally turns his face to the wall. Only gradually does he come out of his funk, but everything irritates him. Especially Mr. Frank’s youngest daughter Anne: nosy, talky, prying, tactless –and to make it worse she appears to have a crush on him. But as the months pass, she slowly changes from an obstreperous little girl to a fascinating young woman of fourteen. It’s not surprising that Peter falls in love with her, since one of his obsessions is whether he will ever have the opportunity to make love to a girl. Almost sixteen when he enters the annex, his mind is in the territory occupied by most teenage boys.  But then Anne falls in love with another: her diary. She dedicates herself to making a record of her thoughts and impressions, as if foreseeing an early death, and Peter is the one whose love goes unrequited. That’s the state of affairs on August 4, 1944, when their hiding place is invaded. The “annex,” a boxy, airless, tacked-on necessity, proves to be just a holding pen.

Ann’s diary ends here, of course, but Peter’s account goes on for another fifty-six pages, recounting the last seven months of his life. Arriving at Auschwitz, he tries to hold on to his mother with one hand and Anne with the other, but they are torn away from him. His identity, except his Jewishness, has been stripped from him along with his clothes. He never had the chance to figure out who he was or what was true.

In spite of Peter’s vision at the very end, of Anne and Margo and his parents and girlfriend hovering over him in a cloud of words, there’s no real hope here. “Jump, Peter!” they shout together. Only death can deliver him, and only his words remain (Are you listening?) That’s the last question.  As a portrait of a young man in extremis, Annexed is valuable.  As a guide to dealing with unanswerable questions, not so much.  It is honest but incomplete.

Cautions: Sexuality/Sensuality (unfulfilled sexual longings of the main character), Language (vulgar words in the last 50 pages), Dark/Depressing (semi-graphic scenes of death at Auschwitz)

Overall Value: 3.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3
  • Artistic Value: 3.75

Categories: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, History, Modern History, War, Life Issues, Discussion Starter

Tags: Annexed, Sharon Dogan, Peter van Pels, Anne Frank, Holocaust fiction, historical fiction, young adult, World War II, death, suffering

Discussion Questions:

  • Literary Element:  If you’ve read Anne Frank’s Diary, what picture do you have of Peter van Pels?  How does his own (fictional) account contrast with Anne’s view of him?
  • Thematic Element: “I believe in people, Anne! In you and me, and even Dr. Pfeiffer. In all of us.” This might be seen as Peter’s statement of faith.  How does it fit with his view of the Nazis?
  • Worldview Element: While still in the annex, Peter van Pels gives up his belief in God: “It’s not the idea of God I don’t like, it’s the choosing. It’s that one religion is meant to be better than the others. I mean, how is God deciding any different from Nazis deciding . . . ?” How would you answer that?

Cover image from Amazon


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6 Responses to Annexed by Sharon Dogar

  1. Janie May 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Melinda, I’ve heard of this book. It sounds like it would dovetail well with North To Freedom, which I would like to mention in a post (even though it’s been around awhile). I would like to check out Shades of Gray sometime in the near future (so many books . . .)

  2. Melinda May 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I just finished Between Shades of Gray this morning. After reading the first few chapters (where fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and her brother are given a few minutes to pack before their deportation from Lithuania), I wondered if I had the fortitude to read this book, based on true stories of deportment, forced labor, and imprisonment beginning in 1941.

    It is wonderfully written (using flashbacks and an epilogue for an even richer story), heartbreaking, and lifts the rug that the main character says “the Soviets swept us under.”

    In a note at the end, the author encourages the reader to “Please research it. Tell someone” about this time in history.

    Janie (and Emily!), I hope you get a chance to read it and let us know what you think.

  3. Janie March 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Thanks for directing me to this review, Melinda. I have nothing but praise for North to Freedom, so I’m eager to check out Between Shades of Gray.

  4. Melinda March 21, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Did you see Meghan Cox Gurdon’s review in The Wall Street Journal this weekend (March 19/20)? She reviews a book called Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (and mentions others), a YA book set behind the Iron Curtain. She mentioned that while many stories have been written for children (“as it should be”) about Nazism and the Holocaust, fewer have been written about Soviet Communism.

    As you have done here, she piqued my interest in the recommendations she made from, as Gurdon describes it, “this tiny but perhaps widening historical niche.”

  5. Janie February 6, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    Beautifully put, Emily. Indeed human compassion has its limits . . . but divine compassion does not.

  6. Emily February 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    I’m really thankful for your insight into this book, Janie. It sounds like the author has done her job well, and yet, why is it that she and so many in our culture are drawn to this story? For all our hopeful confusion about God and who He is, I suspect many of us feel there is something profound about death we’re missing. What does it mean?

    Does death really come as a sequence of coincidences? Was Peter really just unlucky?

    I think you’re right–the Christian may not understand death in all its details, but we do know this: that it is man who started the holocaust we call death. It is man who raised the wall to keep God out, and death is merely a consummation of that rebellion.

    Yet that knowledge, thankfully, doesn’t keep us from mourning someone like Peter. So often I am tempted to “dehumanize” those outside of Christ so that I don’t have to feel the loss that sin and death has carved into the world. What an extraordinary blessing it is to be able to grieve in a genuine, godly way–like the Apostle Paul who wished he could trade his own salvation to save Jews who didn’t love Christ–but without descending into madness, as those without Christ have often done. What a blessing to realize that even human compassion has its limits, and that this too is right and good.

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