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When I Grow Up

The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers

Bloomsbury Publishing

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ISBN10: 163557370X
ISBN13: 9781635573701


240 Pages



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When I Grow Up is The New Yorker cartoonist Ken Krimstein’s new graphic nonfiction book, based on six of hundreds of newly discovered, never-before-published autobiographies of Eastern European Jewish teens on the brink of WWII—found hidden in a Lithuanian church cellar.

These autobiographies, long thought destroyed by the Nazis, were written as entries for three competitions held in Eastern Europe in the 1930s, just before the horror of the Holocaust forever altered the lives of the young people who wrote them.

In When I Grow Up, Krimstein shows us the stories of these six young men and women in riveting, almost cinematic narratives, full of humor, yearning, ambition, and all the angst of the teenage years. It’s as if half a dozen new Anne Frank stories have suddenly come to light, framed by the dramatic story of the documents’ rediscovery.

Beautifully illustrated, heart-wrenching, and bursting with life, When I Grow Up reveals how the tragedy that is about to befall these young people could easily happen again, to any of us, if we don’t learn to listen to the voices from the past.


Praise for When I Grow Up

“Poignant . . . Ken Krimstein's latest book sketches a powerful portrait of Eastern European Jewish youths, full of angst and optimism, on the eve of the Holocaust . . . Yearning is, in fact, the collection's dominant emotion.”Chicago Magazine

“With his signature invigorating art, Ken Krimstein bridges time to connect us with these fascinating lost stories. This is a revelation and a gift!”—Noah Van Sciver, Ignatz Award-winning author of The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski

“Ken Krimstein is a brilliant graphic artist and caricaturist-but above all he is a master storyteller. His new graphic narrative on the Holocaust is destined to become a classic. When I Grow Up is one of those haunting lost stories.”—Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Prometheus and Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography in New York

“A remarkably salvaged history brought fully to life by Ken Krimstein's humor, sensitivity, and vibrant ink drawings. These autobiographies are a rare and special glimpse into the life of six bright, bold, Jewish teenagers-artists, scholars, and activists waking up to their world just before it ignited. Brimming with details and definitions, When I Grow Up is an important contribution to the preservation of Jewish history and culture.”—Amy Kurzweil, author of Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir

“Poignant and haunting, the stories of silenced voices are beautifully drawn back to life. These lost autobiographies could not have been found by anyone more perfect to tell them.”—Carol Isaacs, author of The Wolf of Baghdad: Memoir of a Lost Homeland

“Hitler may have destroyed the vibrant world of Lithuanian Jewry, but remnants of its literary, cultural and quotidian life were salvaged by a band of resourceful librarians and Ken Krimstein has transformed a package of those treasures for us to savor, ponder and grieve. He has taken six stories of ordinary life written by teenagers for a prewar essay contest and with inventive and poignant doodle-like drawings brought the Lithuanian Jews to life all over again.”—Joseph Berger, author of Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust

“A moving work of literary archaeology, rescuing Jewish texts from the oblivion of history . . . [An] excellent follow-up to The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt, [Krimstein's] illustrations recall both Chagall and Art Spiegelman.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Deeply affecting yet often joyful . . . these recovered works form the basis of Krimstein's narrative, and the fact that almost all of the young writers perished at the hands of the Nazis casts an ominous shadow. Yet the six young people who come alive in pencil and watercolor are hopeful, defiant, lovelorn, and smart . . . Krimstein's loose-lined drawings shift between sobriety and humor, while footnotes provide context . . . By depicting the personalities of youth lostwith easy beauty and a lack of preciosityrather than how they died, Krimstein conveys the depth of human and cultural loss that much more profoundly.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)