2019 Finalist for INDIES Book of the Year
When legendary and beloved actor, singer and activist Theo Bikel wrote a short story, shortly before his passing in 2015, about his happy childhood as a Jewish boy in Vienna—confused by rising anti-Semitism, and ultimately forced to flee after the Nazi takeover—he never could have imagined that Jewish children in the US, at the start of 2020, would have to ask their parents the same questions he had asked his own parents: Why are we hated? Why must I be afraid to be who I am?
In The City of Light , Theodore poignantly recounts moments from his childhood in Vienna— at first the happy memories of family, sweet cakes, and holidays; and then darker times, when he experienced and witnessed brutal and violent anti-Semitism as Nazi influence grew. Set in Vienna in 1937-38 during Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria, a young Jewish boy witnesses Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” and elderly Jews being spat upon and forced to clean the sidewalks with their coats. Once at home in the city, he is ostracized and beaten.
One night, the boy dreams that his favorite Jewish superhero, Judah Maccabee, has arrived to save Vienna’s Jews. But when he awakens, there has been no Maccabean rescue. Years pass and the boy, now an old man, returns to Vienna and finds its Jewish community and Temple have been restored. He looks for the eternal light in the Temple and can’t find it. Then suddenly it becomes clear to him: “The light was there all the time; it was in my own heart.”
This special book, gentle and bittersweet in its tone, also includes a three-page Yiddish glossary, a recipe for Honey Cake from Bikel's grandmother, and sheet music of a little-known Hanukkah song "Little Candle Fires" with a link to a website where you can hear Theo singing it.
Theodore Bikel’s The City of Light is receiving critical acclaim, loved by adults who have followed Bikel for decades, as well as young people struggling to make sense of the acts of hatred and bigotry they are now exposed to daily. Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, Theo’s widow and veteran journalist, has added a backstory, several glossaries, and an afterword about an event in Bikel’s life with stunning historic significance. Noah Phillips’ moving illustrations bring the story to life.
“Ginsburg Bikel and Phillips have risen to an extraordinarily difficult task by foreshadowing the events of the Holocaust without confronting her young readers with its atrocities. . . . Over his long and remarkable career, Theodore Bikel achieved the status of living treasure. Thanks to Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, Theo is still here.” —Jonathan Kirsch, The Jewish Journal
“An unusu¬al com¬bi¬na¬tion of mem¬o¬ry, his¬to¬ry, and psy¬cho¬log¬i¬cal query which tran¬scends the divide between books for young read¬ers and those for adults.” —Emily Schneider, The Jewish Book Council
“Aimee Ginsburg Bikel’s shaping and sharing of her beloved late husband Theo Bikel’s tale of what he experienced as a little boy during the rise, and then explosion, of hatred that preceded the Holocaust, is beautiful, painfully powerful, and a great gift. It is particularly meaningful in this time of mushrooming anti-Semitism, hatred and bigotry of every sort, worldwide. It is a riveting tale, made all the more meaningful by the shocking rise of anti-Semitism, and all form of bigotry, right here and right now." —Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary
“If in the past I have ever called a book beautiful, I realize after reading City of Light that I may have been too profligate with my praise. This work for children may be the realization of that often-overused word; it is a very moving story, an excellent way to introduce youngsters to the Holocaust.” —The Jerusalem Post~Peter Yarrow
- Foreword Reviews Indie Book Award for Juvenile Nonfiction