The Year of Goodbyes

A True Story of Friendship, Family and Farewells


By Debbie Levy

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In Germany in 1938, life is dangerous. 

Like other twelve-year-old girls, Jutta Salzberg enjoyed playing with friends, going to school, and visiting relatives. In 1938 Germany, these everyday activities were dangerous for Jews. Jutta and her family tried to lead normal lives, but soon they knew they had to escape–if they could, before it was too late.

Throughout 1938, Jutta had her friends and relatives fill her poesiealbum–her autograph book-with inscriptions. Her daughter, Debbie Levy, used these entries as a springboard for telling the story of the Salzberg family's last year in Germany. 

This powerful story shows a world of change and chance, confusion and cruelty. It was a year of goodbyes.  


All reasonable efforts were taken to locate the copyright owners, if any, of the scrap (oblaten) images used in the design of this book, which come either from Jutta Levy’s poesiealbum or from her collection from the same time period. Mamelok Press in the United Kingdom is the successor firm to one or two of the companies that produced some of the embossed and die-cut scraps in the 1930s, and continues to sell similar paper products today. Other oblaten were produced by firms that no longer exist.

Copyright © 2010 by Debbie Levy
Cover design by Jennifer Jackman

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information please address Disney • Hyperion Books, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4231-5100-5


For my mother, Jutta Salzberg Levy

This book is based on another book—not a library book, or a bookstore book, or even a typed manuscript. It was a book written by hand and owned by my mother when she lived in Germany as a girl. The year was 1938. In her own language, German, the book was known as a poesiealbum (po-eh-ZEE ALbum). In English, you could call it a poetry album.

Poesiealbums were blank books in which young people—mostly girls—collected poems, drawings, and expressions of good wishes from friends and family. The books were popular in Germany in the 1930s, and had been fashionable since the 1800s. The closest American traditions were autograph books and school yearbooks—but poesiealbums were much more serious enterprises. You didn’t just dash off a little ditty while leaning against a locker in the school hallway. Usually you took your friend’s poesiealbum home overnight and used your best handwriting, and maybe also colored pencils, to create a lasting impression. Your illustrations were likely to include symbols of good luck, such as ladybugs, piles of coins, horseshoes, fly mushrooms, four-leaf clovers, hearts, and chimney sweeps and their tools. You might further decorate your page with oblaten (o-BLAH-ten), stickers that girls collected and traded.

In 1938, World War II had not yet begun, but Germany, under its leader Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, had certainly begun its policies of discrimination and exclusion toward the nation’s Jews. My mother, her family, and most of her friends were Jewish. The entries in my mother’s poesiealbum, written from January to November of 1938, were made during a period of rapidly increasing danger for Jews in Germany.

This book—the book you have in your hands—tells the story of what happened to my mother and her family in 1938. The actual poesiealbum entries by my mother’s friends and family (translated here into English) serve as stepping stones through the months of this crucial year. They introduce chapters, written in verse form, that describe my mother’s experiences and emotions and report some of the history of the era. I have written these verses in consultation with my mother to reflect her voice, feelings, and thoughts as she was living through this memorable year. Finally, the book also includes excerpts from my mother’s diary, which she began in the fall of 1938. Together the poesie writings, verses, and diary entries reflect a year of change and chance, confusion and cruelty. Perhaps most of all, they describe a year of goodbyes.

Behold my album’s cleanliness, and when you write don’t make a mess.1

I write these words

on the very first page

of my brand-new book,

my wordless,


blank-new book

with sturdy brown covers,

like heels of bread

spread with smooth butter pages inside—

my favorite sandwich.

It’s what we all write

(in German)

at the front of our books

our empty, inviting

poesie books,

before we ask friends

to fill up the pages

with poems and promises,

wishes and warnings,

names and dates.

It is January 1938.

I am Jutta2 Salzberg,

a Jewish girl

in the city of Hamburg,

between the Elbe and Alster rivers,

in the north of Germany.

Will is power.

To remember your former classmate,

Lisa Streit

January 24, 1938

How serious this sounds,

how unlike Lisa,

who is full of fun.

The fun’s still there,

but the serious takes up more space,

and so Lisa gets right to the point,

which is:

We are Jews in Germany,

in Hitler’s Nazi Germany,

and the Nazis hate Jews

with a power so strong

we must match their hate

with will.

What is will?

It’s courage. It’s strength.

It’s seeing the Nazi hate everywhere—

signs in restaurants that say


signs in stores,


no Jews on playgrounds,

no Jews in libraries.…

It’s feeling the Nazi hate

and laughing with your girlfriends anyway.

No Jews as Germans. Yes, this is a law!

And this is truly something

to laugh at.

Lisa’s family has been German forever—

generations of Jewish Germans,

speaking German,

playing German music,

reading German books.

Lisa’s family is more German than Adolf Hitler!

(He comes from Austria.)

But now—poof!—they are not German.

Now—abracadabra!—Jews are not Germans.

It is the law.

Jews are only Jews

and “pure” Germans are Aryans,

which is the special name

the Nazis made up for themselves.

Speaking of names,

here is another law:

No Jews with names that sound Aryan.

Like what—Adolf?

Will is power, Lisa writes.

Sometimes will is laughing at crazy rules

(quietly, privately,

for we wouldn’t want the Nazis to hear).

But sometimes—

will is tickets to leave Germany.

That’s what Lisa and her family have:

tickets for a big ship

to take them to America.

They leave in a few weeks.

Will is power.

But for me,

it is hard to have will.

It is hard to feel power

when a friend is leaving.

May joy and pleasure be yours

throughout your long-lived days,

with hands that are ever filled

with luck and blessings always.

With thoughts from your classmate,

Ilse Hess

Hamburg, January 25, 1937

I think my friend Ilse

was working so hard

to write her poesie

in her fanciest formal script

that she forgot what year it is.

It’s a mistake many of us make

in January,

even when writing

in ordinary script.

After twelve months

of writing 1937,

the habit is not yet broken.

Or maybe it’s wishful thinking.

Maybe Ilse wishes

she could flip the calendar

backward to January 1937.

One year ago,

there was Hitler,

there were Nazis,

there was hate,

but it was softer,


Father says

it was because of

the Olympic Games,

held in Berlin in 1936.

With the world watching,

the Nazis behaved,

for a while.

I wish I could turn back time, too.

Not only because the hate was softer,

but also because my very favorite uncle,

Uncle Max, was still here,

with his wife, Aunt Alice.

I loved to sleep over


  • * "[A] poignant and chilling...[a]n immensely powerful experience.”—Kirkus, starred review
  • * “Artfully weaving together her mother’s poesiealbum (autograph/poetry album), diary, and her own verse, Levy crafts a poignant portrait of her Jewish mother’s life in 1938 Nazi Germany that crackles with adolescent vitality.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • * “An outstanding and emotionally taut read.”—School Library Journal, starred review

On Sale
Sep 24, 2019
Page Count
160 pages

Debbie Levy

About the Author

Debbie Levy ( is the author of The Year of Goodbyes, Imperfect Spiral, Maybe I’ll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight, and many other books for young readers. A former newspaper editor and lawyer, Debbie is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan Law School. She loves to read, kayak, fish, swim, and take long walks. Debbie lives in Maryland with her husband. They have two grown sons.

Learn more about this author