Playing for the Commandant (Book Review)



Hanna is a talented pianist, and the protected second daughter of middle class Hungarian Jews. Relatively late in World War II the Budapest Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Hanna and her mother and sister are separated from her father. Her mother becomes increasingly mentally ill until she too is taken away somewhere. Her sister Erika is slowly starving to death. Hanna is quite a naïve 15-year-old but when presented with the opportunity to play piano for the camp commander, she is desperate to be chosen. She goes each day under guard to the commander’s house and stands waiting in case the commander should want some music. Also living in the house is the commander’s son, Karl. A handsome young man who seems completely disengaged from what is happening around him. Hanna hates him as he sits drawing in the music room. But the longer Hanna goes to the house, the more she realises there are other things going on. Secret things. Karl may not be the person she thinks he is. Before she knows it she has fallen in love with the wrong boy.


"Look after each other . . . and get home safe. And when you do, tell everyone what you saw and what they did to us.”

Playing for the Commandant is a beautiful book and at the same time it broke my heart, because I couldn’t imagine people who really went through such inhumane treatments and conditions. This is a story about the Nazis and the Jews during the time of Hitler. Hanna is a Jewish girl who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau with her Dad, Her Mom and her sister Erika and it’s all because of the whims of a sadistic camp commandant. Before they got shipped away their life was great, her dad owned a watch company and she was offered a scholarship to go to Budapest Conservatorium of Music to be a pianist. When they arrived at the camp their dad was separated from them because there’s a different camp for guys. Their mother got very frail and detached from reality and was later on sent to the infirmary and she never came back to the camp. Their heads was shaved and they were given so little food and they were treated like animals in the camp. Hanna auditioned to become a pianist for the commandant and she got the job, the commandant has a son named Karl and he was different from the commandant. He secretly helps the Jews that works in their house. Karl and Hanna became secret friends well it looks like they were secret lovers, but Hanna was feeling guilty because Karl’s family was the enemy and she feels like she’s betraying her people.

“I wish we could have met somewhere else,” he said. “At the symphony or a dance. If I’d walked up to you and asked you to dance-“ “I would have said yes.”

I recommend this book; it has a touch of history and a story about love and friendship that blossomed during a difficult time. It’s a fast read, I couldn’t put the book down because the story makes you feel the emotions on what the Jews were feeling. I took a little break from time to time while reading this book, it made me tear up a little and I was sad for Hanna and Karl because they met at such an ugly circumstance.




  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick (October 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763664030
  • ISBN-13: 978–0763664039


Suzy Zail is the author of numerous books for children and adults, including The Tattooed Flower, an account of how her father survived the Holocaust. Playing for the Commandant is her first work of fiction for young adults. She lives in Australia.

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