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Uri Orlev, acclaimed author of children’s Holocaust books, dies at 91

Polish native wrote dozens of books capturing his experiences as a youth in the Shoah, and later during the early years of Israel; Lapid eulogizes ‘one of the greatest writers’

Portrait of Uri Orlev, award-winning Israeli children's author, in his home in Yemin Moshe on June 28, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Portrait of Uri Orlev, award-winning Israeli children's author, in his home in Yemin Moshe on June 28, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli author Uri Orlev, whose dozens of books were renowned for their depiction of his early life during the Holocaust and through the establishment of the State of Israel, died Tuesday aged 91.

Orlev also translated works of Polish literature into Hebrew.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid wrote that Orlev was “one of the greatest writers of children’s books.”

“Our children grew up on him. His memories of the Holocaust and the establishment of the state taught them about our history,” he said. His legacy, Lapid wrote, “will remain with us forever.”

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper said that Orlev’s books “manage to depict his youth in the Holocaust and his immigration to the country and to make the difficulty accessible to children and teenagers through his unique writing.”

Orlev was born in 1931 in Warsaw as Jerzy Henryk Orlowski. His mother was killed by the Nazis and his father taken captive by the Russians.

Together with his brother, Orlev was hidden by a family member in the Warsaw Ghetto but was eventually caught by the Germans and sent to the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Two years later the camp was liberated by the British. Orlev and his brother made their way to Israel, where he worked in a cowshed in Kibbutz Ginegar. His father, who survived the war, arrived in Israel in 1954.

Orlev began writing children’s literature in the 1970s and published over 30 books, which have been translated into dozens of languages.

Among his more famous works are “Run, Boy, Run,” “The Island on Bird Street” and “The Lead Soldiers.”

Orlev won the 1996 Hans Christian Andersen writing award, considered the most prestigious prize in children’s literature. He was also awarded Israel’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Hebrew Literary Works in 1972 and the Bialik Prize for literature in 2006.

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