They Went Left
Momma Leighellen's Book Review

“No amount of warm poultices or aspirin powder can ever fix pain when it comes to ghosts.” – They Went Left by Monica Hesse


There are many books that tell the stories about WWII and the horrors of the Holocaust.  But few talk about what comes NEXT.  What happened to the jewish people when the war ended?  This YA historical fiction novel is set in 1945 Germany and follows the plight of 18 year old Zofia Lederman after she is liberated from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.  When she first arrived, her entire family was “sent left” into the gas chambers and only she and her little brother survive.  When they become separated she vows to find him again and this promise fuels her will to survive.  Once the war ends, her sole purpose becomes to be reunited.  

“I’m exhausted by my own mind.  If I could stop being at war with mown mind.  Tame the monster.  Stop my dreams.”


This book does an excellent job of highlighting the aftermath of war on survivors.  Most suffered not only physical wounds but severe forms of PTSD.  Some were sent back to homes that were already occupied or to neighborhoods that had been completely bombed out.  Many were still confronted with racism and hate.  Most had no family, no possessions, and unsure memories.  Zofia arrives at a displaced persons camps where she tries to heal, learn a trade, and wait.  She writes letters to multiple organizations to try to find her brother but often these organizations were disorganized and overwhelmed. Communication was slow and difficult due to multiple language barriers. Yes, they were “free” but their lives were anything but back to “normal”. 

“The absence of pain is not the same as the presence of happiness.” 

But amidst the pain there was also hope.  By some miracle the letters sometimes worked. Sometimes people found their families.  People made new friends, formed new families, fell in love.  There were still weddings and births.  Life continued to go on despite the horrors endured.  

“I forgot that pleasure could feel this strong.  After years of feeling noting but perpetual, insistent pain, my body had begun to feel an instrument of it.  I forgot that I could want something because I wanted it, not because I was starving or cold.”

In They Went Left, Zofia searches desperately for her brother as her memories slowly begin to return and she rises up from the fog.   She meets amazing people along her journey and learns to trust and find purpose again.  This book is heartbreaking and beautiful.  The writing is vivid and descriptive and I felt fully immersed in the story.  This is one I did not want to end and made me want to continue learn more about these moments in history. 

“Today I am choosing to love the person in front of me.  Do you understand?  Because he’s here, I’m here, and we’re ready to not be lonely together.”

If you would like to learn more about Monica Hesse, check out her website. To read more reviews by Momma Leighellen’s Book Nook, follow along on her blog or head to her Instagram page.

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