The Winter Horses

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The Winter Horses
Author(s)
Age Range
10+
Release Date
March 25, 2014
ISBN
9780385755436
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It will soon be another cold winter in the Ukraine. But it's 1941, and things are different this year. Max, the devoted caretaker of an animal preserve, must learn to live with the Nazis who have overtaken this precious land. He must also learn to keep secrets—for there is a girl, Kalinka, who is hiding in the park. Kalinka has lost her home, her family, her belongings—everything but her life. Still, she has gained one small, precious gift: a relationship with the rare wild and wily Przewalski's horses that wander the preserve. Aside from Max, these endangered animals are her only friends—until a Nazi campaign of extermination nearly wipes them out for good. Now Kalinka must set out on a treacherous journey across the frozen Ukrainian forest to save the only two surviving horses—and herself. This sensitive, inspiring tale captures the power of sacrifice and the endurance of the human spirit.

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World War II in the Ukraine
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
During World War II, Kalinka's entire family and village have been destroyed by the Nazis, and she has run far from that location and ended up on the steppe, where she is befriended by several horses. Max is the caretaker of a animal refuge that had been founded by a German man, but which has fallen on hard times. Nazis are now billetted at the refuge, and Max is in the good graces of the commander, who loves horses. However, he has orders to destroy all of the Przewalski's horses. They are endangered, and Max has worked hard to keep their numbers up, but the Nazis think that they are wild Gypsy horses and need to be exterminated. It doesn't hurt that they can also be used for food, which is hard to come by. After the Germans kill most of the horses, Max is bereft but still wants to stay alive, since he had been imprisoned during the Bolshevik Revolution and was badly injured. However, when Kalinka shows up with two of the horses, he tries to help her recuperate from her deprivations and make plans to get herself and the horses to safety just as the war is coming to a close.

This was a fantastic story of a very unusual facet of the war! The Przewalski's horses were actually listed as extinct for several years and there are several interesting articles about them online. Kalinka's story of survival is heart rending, but her encounters are not all terrible. This is an exciting addition to Holocaust stories because it can also be enjoyed by readers who like horse stories and outdoor survival tales.
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