Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Piri #1

Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944

Rate this book
The classic true story of one child's experiences during the holocaust.

Nine-year-old Piri describes the bewilderment of being a Jewish child during the 1939-1944 German occupation of her hometown (then in Hungary and now in the Ukraine) and relates the ordeal of trying to survive in the ghetto.

Upon the Head of the Goat is the winner of the 1982 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and a 1982 Newbery Honor Book.

“This is a book that should be read by all those interested in the Holocaust and what it did to young and old.” —Isaac Bashevis Singer

213 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1981

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Aranka Siegal

9 books15 followers
Aranka Siegal, one of seven children, was, raised in Beregszasz, Hungary. During World War II, when Aranka was thirteen, she and her family were moved from their home to the Beregszasz brick factory, which had been turned into a ghetto to house Jews. Shortly thereafter, they were deported to Auschwitz. Upon their arrival on May 9, 1944, she and her older sister were separated from the rest of the family, and they never saw them again. Eventually, the two girls were sent to Bergen-Belsen, and in 1945 they were rescued by the British First Army. Through the Swedish Red Cross, Aranka and her sister were then brought to Sweden, where they lived for three and a half years before emigrating to the United States.

From earliest childhood, Aranka learned reverence for books from her grandmother, Babi. She was only twelve years old when Jewish children were banned from the public schools. What books her family owned, and what few others could be obtained, became individual treasures, enabling her to escape from her world -- a world that no longer made sense.

Aranka wanted to capture in her own books the human element of the war. In Upon the Head of the Goat, she depicts the emotions of a young Jewish girl caught up in events that were to destroy her world. Grace in the Wilderness is a continuation of that story, but Aranka does not focus on life in the camps. Instead, she describes the aftermath of the war, how she and her sister had, in effect, to learn to live again. Her most recent book, Memories of Babi, is a series of stories based on teh atuhor's childhood visits with her grandmother on her farm in the Ukraine, in the years before World War II.

Aranka decided to write for young people "because they will be the recorders of history in books yet to be written . . . I know that having read my story they will remember the meaning of 'scapegoat' and refuse ever to participate in spreading prejudice . . . I believe in the importance of my message and its inherent truth as history."

When Aranka arrived in the United States in 1948, she had to learn yet another way of life and master a sixth language. She married, had two children, and when they went off to college, pursued her own higher education on a formal level. She received her B.A. in social anthropology in 1977, and for a year hosted a radio show on which she recounted her experiences in Hungary and other countries. She also became a substitute teacher and lecturer in schools and colleges. Aranka Siegal now lives in Florida.

UPON THE HEAD OF THE GOAT: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944, a 1982 Newbery Honor Book and the recipient of the 1982 Janusz Korezak Literary Award and the 1982 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, was Aranka's first book. Her second book, GRACE IN THE WILDERNESS: After the Liberation 1945-1948, was selected a Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies by the National Council for Social Studies-Children's Book Council Joint Committee.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
576 (37%)
4 stars
498 (32%)
3 stars
301 (19%)
2 stars
87 (5%)
1 star
58 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 108 reviews
Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
February 9, 2017
A perfect introduction to the Holocaust for young adults and grown-ups alike, told by one of its survivors.

This is a touching, truthful, sensible memoir, showing the experience of the author, growing up as a Jewish child in Hungary during the Second World War. It explains the slow development of the terror, breaking into the childhood of Aranka Siegal step by step. It is a readable, captivating, beautifully told story, without any of the cheap effects of recent "Holocaust fiction" (with its inherent danger of losing grasp of real historical processes).

Along with Anne Frank's diary, and Singer's childhood memoir A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw, or When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, it is a worthwhile, authentic read, and a way for young readers to gain adequate access to history. Unfortunately, the quiet truth of these books is not as popular as the showy production for mass consumption without reflection, playing with alternative truth posing as literary freedom.

I strongly recommend it against all odds, fully aware that it will not be found in huge piles on mainstream bookstore tables, advertised and labelled "stunning", "amazing", "simply thrilling", "incredibly bold", "innovative", and so on.

I will quote one comment on Siegal's book, though, that speaks for itself. This is what Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer had to say about it:

"This is the book that should be read by all those who are interested in the Holocaust and what it did to young and old."

If that is what you are looking for, read this. If you want graphic violence and "horrified fascination" with Hitler, check the YA bestseller lists.
Profile Image for Empress Reece (Hooked on Books).
915 reviews78 followers
February 18, 2018
I've been putting off writing this review because I've been debating on whether to rate it a 2 or a 3. I had thought I had settled on a 3 until I wrote my review and realized that a 2 more accurately portrays my feelings.

I honestly was disappointed in, first, the execution of the story. I felt like it was bogged down with sooo many extraneous, and very unnecessary details (i.e. we learn all about when one of the characters start their period) yet its missing a lot of, what I thought, are the more important parts of their story (i.e. we aren't told anything about their time in Auschwitz?)

It left me wishing that the book had a good editor and wondering if it was dumbed down because it's meant to be a kids story or because certain periods of time were too difficult for the author to rehash??

I also felt like this story was very flat. Even though I do have sympathy for what they went through and endured, I felt like this book did nothing to envoke those emotions from me.

My son and I read this book together as one of his required 6th grade, Newberry Award and Honor reading books and he didn't enjoy it very much either. It's a difficult book to read, especially for kids, with the Hungarian names and the way the story is written. It's really not a good book to introduce your children to the German occupation and Holocaust. I want my son to really understand what happened and feel something when he learns about the Holocaust and this book just didn't do that for either of us.
Profile Image for Terri Lynn.
997 reviews
March 21, 2014
I hate to label this as young adult nonfiction because so many people have a prejudice against any book labeled for children or young adults and so miss out on some wonderful and fine literature.

This autobiography begins in 1939 when a little Jewish Hungarian girl Aranka Davidovitch, known to all as Piri, is 9 years old and visiting her grandmother Babi on her small farm across the border near the town of Komjaty in the Ukraine. Trouble erupts between Hungary and the Ukraine and the border is sealed. It is a year before Piri is taken home by her parents back to Beregszasz, Hungary after her mother has yet another baby. At this time, Adolph Hitler is on the move and Hungary is taken over by the Nazis. Babi refuses to go to Hungary and leave her little house and land. She comments that her daughter- Piri's mother- is foolish to be having yet another baby (she has daughters who are grown and married with their own kids or else in college or working)during a war. Some of the family has fled to the USA and Babi urged the family to send Piri and her sisters there too and even tried to fund it but Piri's mother resists until it is too late.

Being back in Hungary is hard. Piri's dad has been dragged into the Hungarian military and ill treated because he is from the Ukraine originally and he is a Jew. He is sent off to the Russian front where he becomes a prisoner. The family owned a business and a Christian man was left to run it (It got to where Jews couldn't run businesses and serve Christians) who became a real SOB and refused to give Piri's mother much of the money. She had a hard time providing for the family and many of the hardships left me in tears. How can you feed your children when you have curfews, can't go to the store or even go out until an hour when everything is purchased, or go in stores owned by Christians even if you do have ration coupons?

Piri's mother tried hard to keep her family together and encouraged and she was very clever. I never would have thought up some of the amazing things this determined mom did. I had to cheer her with everything she tried and she did manage, even if barely.

I wondered if I could stand reading this knowing as I went in that the only survivors of the war would be Piri and one sister Iboya. I knew going in that Babi, Piri's mom and dad and sisters and brothers (including that war baby girl Joli) would die. I knew that Piri and her family would be sent along with the Jews in their area to Auschwitz in a cattle car. They were told it was a work camp. How did little Joli die? At that camp, Nazis often tossed little toddlers and babies into the air and either bayoneted them as they fell or shot them just for fun but many also were suffocated to death in panic and agony in the gas ovens. I have nightmares about it sometimes though I am not Jewish and was born long after the war in the USA. I ache for those who were there to suffer. Children like Joli haunt me. How could we let it happen? Why did we wait until we were attacked?

At any rate, this also uplifted and inspired me. Courageous Babi, resourceful Mom, and those sweet sisters who did all they had to do and faced all they had to face without complaint and who even helped hide Jews who piled in from other areas- this is my definition of hero.

I recommend this to everyone of all ages. The book actually ends when they are shoved on to the cattle car and we do not have to see their suffering and death at Auschwitz. The book is an inspiring story of the lives of this family, their courage, their love for one another, and how they made lemonade when life gave them lemons.
Profile Image for Natalie.
2,822 reviews139 followers
October 31, 2021
Since I'm on the Newbery Quest, I don't really look at what the books are about before I start reading them. I was a little upset when I started listening to this book and discovered it was a book about the Holocaust.

I do not read books about the Holocaust.

I used to read them all the time. In fact, many of them were on my favorite books list, I was always deeply touched by what people could overcome and endure.

Then I went to the Holocaust Museum in DC. I spent 3 hours sobbing my way through the displays and came out deeply traumatized. It was at that moment that I decided to never read another book about the Holocaust. Emotionally, I just couldn't handle it. When I went to Germany and my friends insisted we go to Dachau, I had to completely emotionally cut myself off from feeling anything. I spent most of my time sitting outside enjoying the giant poplar trees while my friends had their own personal, emotional experiences.

The Holocaust should be remembered. It should be taught and places like Dachau and the Holocaust Museum are crucially important. Horrendous cruelty and evil should not be forgotten because we need to make sure it never happens again. Stories matter. For me, personally, I just can't continually revisit that evil. It hurts too much. I have already read a lot of stories and I'm grateful that I got to visit those historically important places, but it's not something I care to revisit.

That is the short story of why I don't read books about the Holocaust, and why I wasn't thrilled when I started listening to this Newbery book.

I was more surprised than anyone when I got completely wrapped up in the story. It's a true story and it was beautifully told by Aranka. She focused on her life in Hungary, living under the threat of Germany's invasion and how her life slowly began to erode. Her mother was a powerhouse and an incredibly inspiring woman. Most of the men were already gone to fight in the war and the women were left to fend for themselves. Aranka's mother took care of there large family with ingenuity and grace.

Aranka takes her story up to the point where they are taken to the ghetto and about to be shipped out with all the other Jewish people the Germans rounded up. I think I saw that she wrote some other books about what happened afterward, but I won't be reading those. I was actually relieved that this book ended before they got to the camps.

The narration was beautifully done as well. Aranka and her family's courage is truly inspiring and I'm glad that she chose to share her story, as I'm sure it was painful, in a lot of ways, for her to do so. I was impressed with the kindness and humor she kept in her narration, in spite of knowing how it all ended. It got me thinking about everyone who survived the camps and how courageous they were to pick up whatever pieces were left and start over again. It never ceases to bring tears to my eyes.
Profile Image for Hafsa Sabira.
224 reviews47 followers
March 17, 2018
Those who like reading on WW2, this is a good book for you. The plot takes place in Hungary where gradually the cruelty of the war takes place. Even though Piri and her family try to remain strong till the end, they soon start to fall apart as the Nazis start invading Hungary. The simple diction of this novel will take you to Piri's world which crumbled down the moment the war began.
Profile Image for Linda Lipko.
1,904 reviews43 followers
March 7, 2013
A 1982 Newbery honor book regarding the holocaust, this is written about events leading up to the deportation of the author's family to Auschwitz in 1944.

Happy and carefree, Piri spends summers with her grandmother in Beregszasz. During 1939 sudden changes occur as it appears the nation is in the debt of Adolf Hitler. Unable to return to Hungary because the borders are closed, we watch as increasingly the slovac nations are swallowed up by Germany.

When Peri is able to return to her family, she learns her father is now in the military and destined for the Russian front.

There is a slowness throughout the story as day by day, little by little, Germany's Hitler becomes increasingly bent on the destruction of the Jews.

Unlike some other holocaust books, this one focuses on events as they unfold, almost in a slow-motion fashion time stands still and then moves a little faster, faster, faster toward the enevitability of destruction.

Profile Image for CLM.
2,695 reviews184 followers
March 2, 2014
A heartbreaking autobiographical Holocaust narrative about the childhood of the author, Aranka Siegal, and her family in Hungary as they slowly became consumed by World War II and the anti-Semitism of nearby Germany and its military.

As someone who is a quarter Hungarian, I was fascinated and found heroine Piri's story compelling yet at times hard to follow. A list of characters and a map would have been helpful - I am so ignorant of geography I did not understand that Piri's grandmother Babi's farm in Komjaty was in the Ukraine.
Profile Image for Ginny Messina.
Author 9 books127 followers
May 21, 2009

A Newbery Honor book, this describes the author's experience as a young girl living in the Ukraine and also a small town in Hungary and then in a Jewish ghetto at the beginning of World War II. Aranka Siegal captures the fear and uncertainty of her family’s life and also her mother’s determination to protect the family’s dignity under intolerable circumstances.
Profile Image for Erin L.
988 reviews40 followers
November 2, 2017
Started non-fiction November with this short book about Hungary in WWII. Very well written and interesting to see the events unfold from a greater distance and a child's point of view. Like the Diary of Anne Frank, you know the child is being sheltered from much of the realities and doesn't fully comprehend the situation. But unlike Ann Frank, this is written post-war and not as diary entries so the author has a better perspective on where things are ultimately headed.

Disturbing and sad, yet another reminder of how deep humanity can sink.
Profile Image for Lauren.
265 reviews1 follower
February 21, 2018
Memoir about WWII/Holocaust from the perspective of a girl from Hungary. Covers the period from initial German occupation through to boarding the train to Auschwitz. I can see students having trouble reading this independently due to slow pacing and necessity of background knowledge. But the story is powerful as an adult because you watch the gradual stripping of rights and know where it's all leading.
Profile Image for Lëtz‘Read.
11 reviews
November 26, 2018
I read this book as a child. Was quite impressed.
I remember it 35-40 years later.
But the French title is the biggest example ever of a wrong translation. As the biblical reference to the scapegoat is not addressed at all. Will this ever be corrected?
Profile Image for blmagm.
180 reviews
July 18, 2014
I had the privilege of hearing the author and concentration camp survivor Aranka Siegal present at Shenandoah University's Children's Literature Conference. The audience listened with rapt attention as she spoke of her growing up years in the ghetto and then as a worker at both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen before being liberated. This novel in which she herself is the main character Piri is based on Siegal's actual experiences. What could be an overwhelmingly bleak book because of the subject matter is actually not. Piri's mother Mrs. Davidowitz, among others in the book, is such a heroic figure. Despite her losses of which there are many, the loss of her husband to the Russian front and the disappearance of her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, she shoulders on, performing many acts of bravery and compassion. Despite what is happening all around her, she tries to maintain as normal a life as possible for her remaining children. She clings to Jewish traditions and her faith to offset her despair. She even sets up a makeshift home even within the midst of the shelter. I will want to follow up with Siegal's book Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation 1945-1948.
835 reviews2 followers
January 4, 2023
This is one of the Newbery honor books in the 5 year segment that I’m reading this semester. It is the only reason I read it. I’m sure during its time it was fine. Now, the middle school book market is flooded with WW II books especially featuring Jewish characters. This has become the only history the majority of students know. While important, there are so many other aspects of history and atrocities that students need to read about. Since I’m at a fatigue level with this topic- three stars is about as high as I will rate it. I do think this is more of a YA book due to some of the content that was not really necessary to drive the plot.
7 reviews1 follower
October 27, 2008
I read this book when I was in eighth grade and was so inspired by the story, I wrote to the author and asked her to come to my middle school to talk about her experience. She came along with three other Holocaust survicors. Her story really appeals to the reader because you can relate to her experiences as a young adult. It shows that even though she was dealing with so many injustices against her, she was still a human with emotions like everyone else. This is probably one of my favorite pieces of Holocaust literature to date.
Profile Image for Janice.
43 reviews1 follower
July 26, 2021
This is a novel written by a survivor of the Holocaust. She was a young girl from a small town in Hungary. Her Grandmother lived across the border in the Ukraine. This area is also very close to Czechoslovakia. In fact, my grandfather's family came from a town just a few miles away from where this young lady lived. I was attracted to this book for many reasons, the most important being we must never forget what happened with the Nazi's & their quest to eliminate the entire Jewish population in all of Europe in the 1930's & 40's. The author describes a wonderful childhood, but as the Nazi occupation grows, it starts to affect her & he family's lives in heart breaking ways. She is very descriptive, you can feel their angst, their hunger & their pain. We all know the ending for many of these people...it still made me cry. I personally knew a man, originally from Budapest, who was in a concentration camp. Because this area of Europe was one of the last to be taken over by the Nazi's, some younger, healthier folks had a better chance of surviving the concentration camps, as it was towards the end of WWII.
Profile Image for Kim.
675 reviews4 followers
December 30, 2017
I remember getting this book for Hanukah the year I turned eight (oops, now I have revealed my age!) It is, of course, the story of one girl and her family in Hungary during the Holocaust and how they survive only for most of the family to ultimately be lost. I saved my copy and when my daughter was nine, I gave it to her. Oh, how times have changed. I don't think children read about the Holocaust as often today as they did when I was growing up - we all knew survivors and our parents, if not the children of survivors, grew up surrounded by them as well. There was no thought to filtering out the brutality of the Nazi regime for children, but when I gave this to my own child, I wondered if it was appropriate for her to read. At any rate, I loved this book but my child did not; I imagine this is best suited to a child who enjoys reading and learning about history, particularly the brutal and soulless Nazi regime. Still, I would recommend this book for a good reader of ages eight or nine, and an average reader of ages 10-14.
2 reviews
January 26, 2021
This book is sad. We like our WWII books with heroes--people that help, who hide Jews, who steal ration coupons and smuggle people out of the country. This book doesn't have any heroes. It is just Piri and her family, trying to get by. I recently read that only 3% of people actually helped the Jewish community during WWII and was shocked by that statistic. This book is a more realistic picture, showing neighbors that look the other way and the despair of those in the Jewish community.

If you don't want to be somewhat discouraged by humanity, don't read this book, but if you have always thought, "I would have been one of the people who helped," read this book and recommit to that resolve.

I think it is important to note that this book is not a novel, it is a memoir. For those complaining it ends with the ghetto, there is a sequel with more of Piri's story.
Profile Image for Amber Scaife.
1,181 reviews10 followers
February 13, 2021
This memoir follows Piri, a young girl in a mid-to-lower class Jewish family living in Hungary during WWII, through hearing rumors of mistreatment of Jews in other areas, to being evacuated from their home and moved into a ghetto, and ends with them being packed into the train headed for Auschwitz. It's sad and moving and terrifying, and, I think, one of the more mature picks for the Newbery Honor list I've read (which are generally books aimed at middle grade readers - I'd put this one firmly in the YA category). Guardedly recommended - it's certainly not a happy read, but fairly well done for what it is.
Profile Image for Jen.
1,563 reviews6 followers
June 9, 2019
This is definitely more appropriate for the upper end of the Newbery Award. I loved this memoir, and the detail of life for a Hungarian Jew during World War II. I hadn't known much about Hungary during this time, though I love the country. The Soviet takeover following is much more imprinted on the national culture. The framing of this story was unique, as well, focusing not on the camps, but on the gradual fall to Hitler's demands. Piri is a relatable and engaging character, and the actions of those around her are understandable, as well.
Profile Image for Ellen.
1,072 reviews7 followers
October 22, 2020
This was a short book, but it took me forever to get through because it wasn't paced very well. Too little happened for half the book, and then too much happened all at the end. And the ending? The author ends this book as she and her family are heading to Auschwitz. She later wrote a book about her life post-liberation, but nothing about her time in the camp. Of course it's an individual's choice to share their memoir, but I really wanted to know what happened to the side characters during that part of their lives.
Profile Image for Britnyla.
35 reviews
July 8, 2023
I started reading this with my kids while we were in Hungary. At times the story feels a bit slow, maybe even boring as daily interactions are described. At the same time, those seemingly normal interactions and the unusual adaptations Piri’s family was forced to accept are important to relate the experience of looming turmoil and the unknown. Having recently read Imre Kertész’s book Fateless(ness) about his experience in concentration camps the ending of this book hit hard and left me in tears.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jessica.
21 reviews
August 17, 2017
I'm sure I must have borrowed this from Millard North Social Studies, as was stamped inside the cover, and meant to give it back, but it's a bit overdue. After 20 years on my bookshelf, I finally read it and enjoyed the details as it helped with really understanding how life changed on a day to day basis for Jews in Hungary with Germany gaining power. It doesn't touch the concentration camps which makes it very different from other Holocaust books I've read. Worth a read!
Profile Image for Jaide B.
162 reviews
November 25, 2019
To be honest, reading this was a bit of a chore, and it took me far too long to finish. I don’t know if that was due to the writing style, or the appropriately-depressing nature of the book. I am sorry for what Piri/Ms. Siegal went through; however, reading these memoirs left me feeling dark, hopeless and unhappy.

Despite the Children’s Newberry Award, I would label this as a YA book. Rape is mentioned, and Piri and other girls were groped when boarding the trains.
Profile Image for Jennifer Meikrantz.
19 reviews1 follower
August 26, 2017
This is required reading for seventh graders in my local school district, so I was surprised to find multiple mentions of men violating women and girls, even using the word "rape." I don't think I could've handled that at that age. So while it is an interesting insight into the time period, I wouldn't recommend it for middle schoolers.
Profile Image for Cheri.
475 reviews16 followers
February 27, 2018
This is a heartrending account of one young girl's experience of the Holocaust. Even though the author was a child at the time, and the book received a Newbery Honor, it's not a book for children. I wish there had been a final chapter to say what happened to all the people we got to know in the book, especially to Piri's family.
563 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2019
This is a well told rendition of the horrors of being a Jew in Europe during Hitler's reign of terror. Thankfully the author doesn't describe in detail all the horrible actions they had to endure because she knew her audience would mainly be children. She does an excellent job of sharing all the family customs and culture that were such an important part of her young life. I'd recommend this book to readers older than 10 who are interested in holocaust stories that aren't centered on a concentration camp.
Profile Image for Becky.
103 reviews
November 10, 2020
Somehow I missed all of the "life during the holocaust" books that are usually required in school, so Upon the Head of the Goat was very impactful for me. As it is a child's perspective, it is very light on politics or the war at large, and instead gives a very personal perspective of one girl and her journey from "normal life" to Auschwitz.
Profile Image for Tina.
611 reviews11 followers
April 19, 2023
A nine-year-old child tells of her experiences of being Jewish during the Holocaust (the author is a Holocaust survivor). Piri's story was so detailed that I felt like I was a part of the story and was disappointed when the story abruptly ended. I see that there is a sequel out - I may have to check it out!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 108 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.