Through Eva's Eyes by Phoebe Eloise Unterman

May 7, 2011

Mr. Dan Bolen, Bank of Prairie Village chairman, introduced me to a book called Through Eva’s Eyes by Phoebe Eloise Unterman.  The author, a recent graduate from Shawnee Mission East High School, was the 2006 Gold Award Winner of the Kids-In-Print Contest for Students.  She wrote and illustrated this book.  Even though it is classified as youth fiction, it is based on the true experience of the author’s grandmother, Eva Unterman.  Eva grew up during the Holocaust period and German occupation of her hometown.  The story is told through Eva’s eyes, through a little girl who suffered in much the same manner as the adults. 

One day, Jews were ordered by the Germans to leave their homes in Lotz, Poland.  Eva was allowed to take only one of her dolls.  “I went to my bedroom and looked at my family of dolls, trying to decide which one I should take.  It was a heartbreaking decision for me to make.  Those dolls were my playmates, my friends.  I loved all of them dearly. . . . I kissed them one by one and said goodbye, tears welling in my eyes.”   Eva, her family, and other Jewish people were forced by the Germans to walk to a dilapidated subdivision of Lotz, called the “ghetto”, which was sectioned off by barbed wire.  There, she lived in filth, was constantly cold, and saw no end to her gnawing hunger.  She also witnessed other children being taken away by the Nazi’s never to return.  Later, she was imprisoned at Auschwitz and then Stutthof, two different but equally horrifying concentration camps.

In a letter addressed to Bank of Prairie Village shareholders and clients, Mr. Bolen described the pain he felt while walking one evening.  He stopped and upon examination realized a tiny pin had pricked his toe.  The next evening, Mr. Bolen attended a local library where Phoebe and her grandmother, Eva, discussed this book.  Mr. Bolen quoted Eva’s “most painful experience.”

She and her mother were force marched 20 miles one snowy night to another camp.  Like all prisoners, Eva had nothing but shoddy wooden shoes.  During the forced march, a nail pushed through Eva’s shoe and into her foot.  Eva said the pain was unbearable.  Eva’s mother, however, would not let her stop.  She warned that if Eva even so much as hesitated, their Nazi guards would bayonet her immediately.  You could almost see Eva twitching in suppressed pain recounting how she clung to her mother’s hand marching miles with a nail protruding into her foot.

As you can imagine, Eva’s story intensely resonated against my prior evening’s experience. . . . By contrast, here sat this demure grandmother calmly relating how she marched miles half starved through the Polish snow with a nail in her foot.

A tiny pin in Mr. Bolen’s foot cannot begin to compare to the nail in Eva’s foot.  Yet Eva endured the pain and conquered the nail “with an iron will and faith to complete the journey.”

This book is an educational read for both youth and adults.  Through Eva’s Eyes has two main themes.  Obstacles in life may be overcome as Eva overcame her obstacles.  Also, as stated by the publisher, “It [This book] is furthermore an acknowledgement of those who survived and suffered the terror–and also those who died.  They distantly murmur to us, ‘Never again.  Never again.’” 

Quotes by Mr. Bolen used with his permission.

Reviewed by Library Staff