57 pages 1 hour read

Jennifer Roy

Yellow Star

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


Jennifer Roy’s Yellow Star (2006) is a novel in verse that recounts the experiences of Syvia Perlmutter, Roy’s aunt, in the Lodz Ghetto, Poland, from February 1940 to January 1945. Delivered from a child-like perspective, this middle grade novel deals with the theme of Antisemitic Genocide and explores the immense hardships of life in the ghetto, while also detailing the courage and resilience of those detained. It received several awards, including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award (2006), the Sydney Taylor Honor Award, the William Allen White Children's Book Award (2009), a New York Public L Book, an ALA Notable Book, and a National Jewish Book Honor Award.

This guide is written using the Amazon Encore 2012 e-book edition of Yellow Star.

Content Warning: The source text and this guide discuss antisemitism, violence, starvation, and murder.

Plot Summary

Four-and-a-half-year-old Syvia Perlmutter plays with her dolls as she listens to her mother, father, and aunts discussing the increasing danger for Jewish people in Lodz. The family drives a buggy to Warsaw, hoping that this city will be more liberal, but they face similar antisemitism; they are unable to find accommodation or employment and return to Lodz.

Shortly thereafter, they are forcibly relocated to the Lodz Ghetto, a place enclosed with barbed wire and surrounded by armed Nazi guards. Syvia’s father, Isaac, was a salesman before the war, but now he works as a flour delivery man, while Syvia’s mother and older sister, Haya and Dora, work in factories.

Syvia often plays with her dolls with her friends Itka and Hava, but one day Hava disappears from the street. The winter of 1941 is long and freezing; rations are in short supply, and many die of starvation.

Deportations of children begin. The Nazis assure frantic parents that the children are going somewhere safe, but the parents are suspicious. Nazi soldiers go through the ghetto each night, rounding up children to reach their quota. Each night the Nazi guards approach, Isaac takes Syvia to hide in a hole in the cemetery, and then in other hidden spots in the ghetto once this hiding place is discovered. Syvia manages to avoid deportation but is devastated when Itka is taken.

Between the winter of 1942 and the spring of 1944, Syvia is hidden in the family’s apartment. Her family pretends that she has been deported, so she is not allowed outside. She sings herself songs and cleans the apartment, suffering through freezing winters and feeling herself close to starvation numerous times.

In the summer of 1944, the Nazis declare that the ghetto is to be fully liquidated. Deportations of all Jewish people in the ghetto resume. Nazis come in the night to the Perlmutters’ apartment and order Syvia and her family to the train station, where people are sorted into two lines. Those on the left are to be deported to death camps; those on the right remain in the ghetto to help clean up. Isaac is sent to the right, but he insists that the family should stay together, so they are all sent to the left due to Syvia’s young age.

They return to their apartment and are due back at the train station the following morning. Isaac has a gut feeling that they should not go to the train station to be deported. He hides Syvia with her young cousin, who is also named Isaac, and confidently approaches the guard at the workers’ house; this indicates that they had been selected as workers, as he noticed the previous day that no list was written of those allocated to the right as opposed to the left. A Jewish woman distracts the guard while Isaac returns in secret to young Isaac and Syvia, who are hidden in a cellar of the workers’ house with 10 other children.

The children are discovered after a few months. Nazi guards pull them from the cellar, preparing to shoot them, but they are surrounded by 800 Jewish adults; the Nazis sense that there will be a furious rebellion if the children are killed (and the Nazi guards, although armed, are significantly outnumbered). They decide to leave them.

Soon, Russian planes bomb the ghetto. A group of people, including the Perlmutters and led by Isaac, runs to an open courtyard in the ghetto and lies down. A Russian pilot sees them from above and recognizes the yellow stars of David sewn onto their clothing; he is also Jewish. He comes into the ghetto to save them. Russian soldiers cut the wires surrounding the ghetto, and Syvia and her family are free.