Nationality: Israeli (originally Polish: immigrated to Israel, 1945). Born: Jerzy Henryk Orlowski, Warsaw, 24 February 1931. Education: Kibbutz high school. Military Service: Israeli Army, 1950-52. Family: Married 1) Erela Navin in 1956 (divorced 1962), one daughter; 2) Ya'ara Shalev in 1964, one daughter and two sons. Career: Prisoner, Bergen-Belsen, 1943-45. Worked on a cattle ranch at a kibbutz before moving to Jerusalem in 1962. Awards: Awards from Israeli Broadcast Authorities, 1966, 1970, 1975, 1979, and 1991; Youth Alia prize, 1966, for The Last Summer Vacation; Prime Minister prize (Israel), 1972 and 1989; Mildred L. Batchelder award and Sydney Taylor book award, both in 1985, for The Island on Bird Street; Janusz Korczak literary prize (Poland), 1990; Mildred L. Batchelder award, 1991, and National Jewish Book Council award (New York), 1992, both for The Man from the Other Side; Annual Book Parade prize (Israel), 1995, for Lydia, Queen of Palestine; Mildred L. Batchelder award, 1996, for The Lady with the Hat; Hans Christian Andersen award, 1996; Ministry of Education Zeew prize, 1997, for The Sandgame.Member: Hebrew Writers Association; Israeli Translators Association; International Board on Books for Young People. Agent: Nili Cohen, Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, P.O. Box 10051, Ramat Gan 52001, Israel. Address: c/o Keter Publishing House, P.O. Box 7145, Jerusalem 91071, Israel.
Hayale-'oferet. 1956; as The Lead Soldiers, 1979.
'Ad mahar [Till Tomorrow]. 1958.
Novels (for young adults)
Kasheh le-hiyot aryeh [It's Hard to Be a Lion]. 1979.
Ha-I bi-rehov ha-tsiporim. 1981; as The Island on Bird Street, 1984.
Keter ha-drakon [The Dragon's Crown]. 1984.
Ha-Ish min ha-tsad ha-aher. 1988; as The Man from the Other Side, 1991.
Ha-Geveret 'im ha-migba'at. 1990; as The Lady with the Hat, 1995.
Lidyah, malkat Erets Yisra'el. 1991; as Lydia, Queen of Palestine, 1993.
Mishak ha-hol. 1996; as The Sandgame, 1999.
Shirat ha-livyatanim [Song of the Whales]. 1997.
Ruts yeled, ruts [Run Boy, Run]. 2001.
Novels (for children)
Hayat ha-hoshekh [The Beast of Darkness]. 1976.
Ketanah-gedolah [The Big Little Girl]. 1977.
Meshaga'at pilim [Hole in the Head]. 1977.
Mahashavot tsehorayim [Noon Thoughts]. 1978.
Si'aminah veha-hatulim shel Yemin Mosheh. 1979.
Hultsat ha-aryeh [The Lion Shirt]. 1979; as A Lion for Michael, 2000.
Ha-Mabul ha-shahor [The Black Cloud], with Yiftah Alon. 1979.
Ma'ase be-manoah she-hif'il et ha-moah [How Mr. Cork Made the Brain Work]. 1979.
Motsets ha-mazal [The Good Luck Pacifier]. 1980.
Savta soreget [Granny Knits]. 1981.
Rosh ha-'ir ten la-shir [Mr. Mayer, Let Us Sing]. 1981.
Ah boger [Big Brother]. 1983.
Masa'le-gil arba' [How to Be Four]. 1985.
Hafifat rosh. 1986; as Hairy Tuesday, 1999.
Ketsitsah meha-tsohorayim [A Mouthful of Meatball]. 1995.
Rehoke mishpahah [Last of Kin]. 1996.
Hufshat ha-kayits ha-ahronah: Sipurim [The Last Summer Vacation]. 1968.
Short Stories (for children)
Tor ha-kenafayim [The Wings Turn]. 1981.
Ha-Mishpahah ha-nodedet [The Wandering Family]. 1997.
Poetry (for children)
'Al tsad sem'ol [On the Wrong Side of the Bed]. 1985.
Who Will Ring First? (for children), 1979; The Dream of the Chinese Crown Prince, 1991.
Editor, with Tsofiyah Shiber, Ha-Tafkid he-'atsuv shel hati'ud: yoman mahbo [Sad Task of Documentation], by Salek Perehodnik. 1993.
Translator, Ba-yeshimon uva-'aravah, by Henryk Sienkiewicz. 1982.
Translator, Peshitat ha-regel shel g'ek ha-katan, by JanuszKorczak. 1985.
Translator, Kaitush ha-mekhashef, by Janusz Korczak. 1987.
Translator, Hazarah meha-kokhavim, by Stanislav Lem. 1988.
Translator, Yomane kokhavim, by Stanislav Lem. 1990.
Translator, Ha-shed meha-shevi'it, by Kornel Makuszynski. 1990.
Translator, Masa' be-siman kelev, by Kornel Makuszynski. 2000.*
The Island on Bird Street, 1996.
"Survival! Polish Children during World War II" by Marilyn Fain Apseloff, in Visions of War: World War II in Popular Literature and Culture, edited by M. Paul Holsinger and Mary Anne Schofield, 1992; "Author Spotlight: Uri Orlev," in Bookbird, 31(3), September 1993, p. 39; "Childhood Lost: Children's Voices in Holocaust Literature" by Naomi B. Sokoloff, in Infant Tongues: The Voice of the Child in Literature, 1994; "Telling the Life Story of Death" by Nava Semel, in Modern Hebrew Literature (Israel), 20-21, 1998, pp. 18-22.* * *
"I don't wish to finish with the Holocaust," Uri Orlev once said, "because what other people call the Holocaust was, for me, my childhood." Orlev is an accomplished author of two children's novels about the experiences of boys surviving the Holocaust in Poland. He was born as Jerzy Orlowski in Warsaw in 1931. His father, a physician and an officer in the Polish Army, was taken prisoner on the Russian front when World War II broke out. After the Nazis killed his mother, his aunt Stefania cared for Uri and his younger brother and eventually smuggled them out of the ghetto. They were sent to Bergen-Belsen in 1943 with their aunt and were liberated by the 9th U.S. Army in April 1945.
After the war Orlev and his brother went to a kibbutz in what is now Israel. Orlev completed his education and worked on the kibbutz cattle farm. Eventually he left the kibbutz for Jerusalem, where he has lived with his second wife and four children. In The Sandgame Orlev writes, "When I was a child we played a game called 'How Many Children Will You Have?' Usually, it was played in a sandbox. One child took a handful of sand, tossed it in the air, and flipped his hand over so that the back of it faced up. As some of the falling sand settled there, he announced: 'So many children will you have!' … The sand thrower tossed the sand into the air again, flipped his hand palm-side up, and called out as the sand fell: 'This many will die in the forest!' He was referring to the grains that missed his hand and dropped to the ground. That happened to most of them. A smaller number fell into his open palm. And so he kept tossing the remaining sand into the air, catching it now on the back of his hand and now in his palm while announcing: 'This many will be run over!' 'This many will die of the plague!"' This was Orlev's metaphor for explaining to his son how it was with the Germans. "They kept throwing us into the air and great numbers of us died, but my brother and I landed safely each time."
In his novels for children and young people, skillfully translated into English by Hillel Halkin, Orlev fictionalizes his experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto. He tells stories that resemble his own but that are truthful and believable inventions, based on history and personal experience, not literal retellings of his life.
One of Orlev's great gifts is telling history in clear and direct words to young readers. In The Sandgame he writes, "We might have survived the war in the ghetto if the Germans hadn't begun to evacuate it. Starting in the summer of 1942, thousands of Jews were taken every day and sent in trains for 'resettlement.' You might think that this was the Germans' idea of a sick joke, but they weren't trying to be funny. They were simply trying to hide what they were doing from their victims and from history… Within three months the popula tion of the ghetto shrank from half of a million to fifty or sixty thousand." His mother and his aunt were employed in a factory with about a thousand workers. "The only salary, of course, was the right to stay alive. The factory was in a converted apartment building and we lived in the building next to it, which was the only inhabited house for blocks around. It was like living on a little island in a strange, silent sea of death."
This idea of living on an island is the central metaphor of The Island on Bird Street, which recounts the story of Alex, a Jewish boy who survives for months waiting for his father alone in an abandoned building in the ghetto. In The Man from the Other Side Orlev tells the story of 14-year-old Marek, who accompanies his Polish stepfather as they smuggle supplies into the ghetto through the sewers.
A central theme in Orlev's books is the maturing relationship of a boy with his father or with a man who becomes a father to the boy. In his memoirs Orlev talks about his "adventures" during the war: "I thought of myself as the hero of a thriller who had to survive until the happy ending on the book's last page, no matter who else was killed in it, because he was the main character." Thus, his tone is one of heroism and adventure, even when the events he describes are horrifying. This approach allows him to keep horror and despair at bay and to tell his stories to young readers with honesty but also with hope.