Title: Beyond Belief
Author: Dee White
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st April 2020
Synopsis: Inspired by the true story of Muslims who saved the lives of Jewish children in the Second World War.
In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Ruben’s parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family. One hint of Rubens true identity and he will be killed. So will the people trying to save him.
But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox’s true identity.
Most Holocaust stories revolve around the camps, or the Jewish ghettoes and areas of Europe invaded by the Nazis. Whilst some stories tell of people who flouted Nazi rules to hide Jews, there are other stories not told. Dee White has sensitively and evocatively told one of these stories in Beyond Belief with careful research, and interaction with Holocaust survivors, Muslims who knew the history explored in the novel, and sensitivity readers.
In 1942, the Grand Mosque in Paris is more than just a mosque – it is a safe haven for Jewish children, hidden from the Nazis as they wait to be reunited with their families, saved from the horrors of the camps – known people at the time, but the true horrors and events were not something they knew about, at least Ruben, Daan, Amra and the other characters. They know they are separated from their families and do not know when they will be reunited.
It is both hopeful and filled with the harsh realities of the war and the Holocaust. Paris is held by the Nazis, who make their presence known, storming into the mosque and searching for Jewish children. The Imam protected them, up until the mosque is raided and Hana, Momo, her brother, and Ruben make a dash for their lives with Evette and Fida, and run into people they never thought they’d see again and set out on a journey that will reveal who the Fox is…and unite them as family.
Learning these stories enriches our understanding of the history we know, and the history we do not know. Until I read this book, I knew nothing of the role mosques and Muslims, in particular the Grand Mosque in Paris had in hiding and helping Jewish children survive the Holocaust. It is an important story, as it shows the humanity in the world, and teaches us that whilst Judaism, Christianity and Islam are separate religions – yet they worship the same God, and this is what Ruben learns in the mosque – that humanity and the kindness of people will get him through, and to trust those around him – to trust Evette and Fida.
I came to love all these characters and initially, I thought I would savour this book, yet I inhaled it in two or three sittings – it was one that was compelling, where I needed to know what happened next, who survived, how they escaped and so many other threads and events that take place in the latter half of the novel that are crucial to what happens. I loved Amra and Hana, they were wonderful, in the face of great tragedy, faced everything that came towards them bravely with Ruben.
This is an important book – we need to know this history and this book has the header ‘Heroes of the Holocaust’ – I hope this is going to become a series because I think it would make a really good one, especially if it explores lots more lesser known stories and histories of this time period.