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While nascent talk of the Holocaust was in the air when I was growing up in New York City, we did not learn about it in school, even in lessons about World War II or the waves of immigration to America’s shores. There were no public memorials or museums to the murdered millions, and the genocide of European Jewry was subsumed under talk of “the war.”
My father was a somber man who arrived here from Poland after the war and, like many survivors, kept to himself, trying his best to block out the past. Growing up, my connection to my father’s lost world consisted of names mentioned in hushed tones and photographs retrieved from hidden boxes.
But as I grew older, I watched with great interest, more than a little curiosity, and a good deal of relief as it became more acceptable to talk about “our” tragedy. By the 1980s, lessons about the genocide of European Jewry became de rigueur in high schools through the nation. In the following decade, people could flock to a hulking museum in our nation’s capital that told the story for all who cared to listen.
The Holocaust became a universal moral touchstone that called upon us to defend our common humanity against the capacity for evil. But today, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January, the lesson we Jews seem to draw from our history is that those outside the tribe cannot be trusted.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attack on a kosher food store in Paris, and as anti-Semitism rises in France and elsewhere, these fears seem understandable. I know these kinds of fears well. Even in the relative comfort of his postwar existence, my father had a recurring nightmare that he was being chased by German shepherds.
But when such fears lead to catastrophic thinking, they harden our hearts to the suffering of others and contribute, paradoxically, to a sense of Holocaust fatigue among many Jewish Americans — particularly younger ones.
“I’m sick of the Holocaust as a shorthand for ‘we suffered more than you, so we should get the piece of cake with the rosette on it,’” a 20-something columnist wrote in the Forward. Peter Beinart in The Crisis of Zionism argues that the growing emphasis on the Holocaust in American life beginning in the 1960s and 1970s marked the end of Jewish universalism.
“Liberalism was out,” Beinart wrote. “Tribalism was in.”
Beinart and others are partly right: Holocaust trauma is too readily exploited. But historically, Holocaust commemoration efforts have been more than simply exercises in tribalism. They often emerged from an urge to acknowledge and alleviate human suffering writ large.
Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish legal scholar and Holocaust survivor who coined the term “genocide” and fought to have the concept recognized by the United Nations, exemplified this impulse. So did the mobilization of the Holocaust second generation. Descendants of survivors, empowered by the progressive movements of the 1960s and 1970s, coaxed our parents to share their stories. The Holocaust consciousness we helped build was part of a larger search for self-expression and human rights.
Today, many Holocaust commemoration activities reflect this universal spirit as well, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s efforts to promote awareness of genocide in Sudan and elsewhere. Jewish-American donors provided the bulk of the funds for a memorial to the more than two million Cambodians murdered during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge, an acknowledgement of a shared tragic history.
These and other efforts to remember the suffering of others should be applauded, but they must be more than window dressing. They should also spur our own collective soul-searching. Committing funds for projects in places where Jews have few political or emotional investments, such as Cambodia or Sudan, is relatively easy. Subjecting our own deeply felt loyalties to Israel to scrutiny is a much more difficult, but no less important, task.
The truth is that at times our privileges may in fact be implicated in the suffering of others in the Palestinian territories, where life is brutal and frequently too short. A sense of hopelessness prevails among both Israelis and Palestinians, fueling acts of desperation and violence in the Middle East and beyond.
A chorus of leaders on both sides is promoting a politics of fear, declaring I cannot be my brother’s keeper when my brother is out to murder me. But on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us honor the memory of the parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, and all of the unknown others we have lost by resisting such talk and redoubling our efforts to seek peace.
A version of this article first appeared on New Jersey Jewish News.
Headline image credit: Ruins of barracks at Birkenau. Photo by Dennis Frank (WeEzE). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The post Holocaust consciousness must not blind us appeared first on OUPblog.
I've read two books about European Jews escaping to Cuba in the late 1930s, and both were works of fiction based on true events. Passing through Havanna
by Felicia Rosshandler is an interesting YA/Adult novel based on the author's experiences. The Other Half of Life
by Kim Ablon Whitney is a middle grade/YA fictionalize version of the trip 938 Jews made on a ship sailing to Cuba and the US and Canada and not being allowed to enter one of these countries and based on the actual trip the MS St. Louis made in 1939.
Liesl's Ocean Rescue
is also a fictionalized version of the fated ship, the St. Louis and based on one girl's true experience of her disappointing trip to safety from the Nazis in Germany. Liesl's trip began on the night of her father's 56th birthday, November 9, 1938. While celebrating, the gestapo shows up and arrests her father simply because he was Jewish. Later that night, more Nazis showed up, but luckily Liesl's mother gets her out of the house in time. The following day they discover that their house was ransacked and everything is broken and ruin. The same destruction happened all over Germany, but only to Jewish homes and businesses.
Liesl is sent to the country for safety, but a month later, after her father was released, her parents come to get her. It is time for the Joseph family to leave Germany. On May 13, 1939, they board the ship MS St. Louis and head for Cuba.
On board, young Liesl experiences a freedom she has never known before. She is able to go wherever she wants, to sit wherever she pleases and even go to see the movies that are played on board, all things that Jews were forbidden to do in Nazi Germany. And Liesl enjoys her trip, exploring the ship, make friends with the crew and playing checkers with other new friends.
But Cuba refuses to let the passengers enter Havana when the ship arrives, so does the US and Canada. Negotiations take place, with the Captain and Mr. Joseph heading a committee, hoping to find a country that would accept the fleeing Jews so they wouldn't have to return to Germany. In the end, countries are finally found that would accept the passengers.
Barbara Krasner's Liesl's Ocean Rescue
is the only book for younger readers that I have found that covers the ill-fated rescue voyage of the Jews on board the MS St. Louis. It is well written and sticks to Liesl's story, ending just as the passengers find places to go to, but I;m afraid the end is a little too abrupt. What happens to the Joseph family? It is included but it is in the Author's Note: the real Liesl and her family first went to London, England, and in 1940, they emigrated to the United States.
I found this to be an excellent introduction to the Holocaust for young readers. It doesn't cover the Holocaust per se
, but the ordeal of being Jewish and trying to get away from the Nazis even before the war started. Putting it into a story about a very confident, very friendly, and very happy 10 year old I think makes the story all that much more poignant.
Along with and complimenting the story are black and white pencil illustrations by Avi Katz.
Besides her Author's Note, Krasner has also included a Selected Bibliography and other sources for finding out more about the MS St. Louise and her passengers.
Liesl's Ocean Rescue
is an ideal picture book for older readers who want to learn more about the Holocaust and have an interest in realistic historical fiction.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the author
You can read an interview with Liesl Joseph Loeb done in 2009 for the Prescott News HERE
|Liesl on board the St. Louis|
Liesl passed away in 2013 and you can read her obituary in the Jewish Exponent HERE
When young Ruthie finds a tattered prayer book in a box of old photographs marked Germany in her grandmother's house, she gets quite a surprise. The prayer book in written in Hebrew and German and had apparently been burned. Even more surprising - her grandmother tells Ruthie that the book came from Germany and it belongs to her father.
When Ruthie asks her dad about it, he tells her that he was born and lived a happy life in Hamburg with his family, and with lots of cousins and friends. But, when the Nazis took over the government in 1933, all that changed. Soon, Jews weren't allowed in restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, schools. Old friends became instant bullies.
Then, in November 1938, Nazis began a night of destruction, Kristallnacht
, destroying Jewish business and synagogues, setting them on fire. When Ruthie's dad saw what was left of his synagogue, he also saw burnt prayer books all over. He reached for one and hid it in his coat - a reminder of the place where he had once been so happy.
One day, while he and his father were in a shop, Nazis came down the road probably to arrest the men. Ruthie's Grandpa slipped out the back door, while her dad ran home to tell his mother what happened. Days later, Grandpa came back home and told his family he had to leave, sailing for America with his son Fred.
Every night, her dad opened his burnt, tattered prayer book and prayed. Finally, in June 1939, visas arrived for Ruthie's dad, mother and brother Sid. Other friends and family members were leaving Germany, too, for Argentina and Israel. Others, sadly, had to remain in Germany.
On board the ship, after the Sabbath candles were lit, Ruthie's dad showed the prayer book to his mother, expecting her to be angry, but she wanted it to be a reminder of the good life they had had in Germany and a source of strength for the future.
Recalling what happened so long ago in his life in Germany, after making such an effort to forget it all, Ruthie's father realizes how important that burnt, tattered prayer book had been to him and how much what it symbolized is an important part of himself.
The burnt prayer book is a symbol of both the happy, good life Ruthie's dad and his family shared before the Nazis came to power, and at the same time, the terrible years that followed.
Often, when we talk about the Holocaust, it is about the mass roundups of Jews, the death camps they were sent to, and the attempt to systematically destroy an entire race of people. But nothing happens in a vacuum and neither did the Holocaust. Between the years 1933 and 1938, Jews were subject to all kinds of degrading treatment by Hitler's henchman in the SA and the SS, and by ordinary citizens who turned their backs on friends overnight.
In The Tattered Prayer Book
, Ellen Bari has written an informative, but gentle picture book for older readers (age 7+) about those deplorable years in a way that kids will definitely understand. It is an ideal book for parents who wish to introduce their children about the Holocaust themselves before they learn about it in school. Teachers, however, will also find it to be an excellent book for teaching the Holocaust, as well.
The illustrations by Avi Katz are done in sepia-tones that are reminiscent of old photographs and burnt paper, again reflecting that balance of good and bad times that the prayer book represents.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher
Gifts from the Enemy
is based on Alter Wiener's book From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography.
It is many years after the Holocaust and Atler begins his personal story of survival by telling the reader that he was an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.
Alter was only 13 when the Nazis invaded Poland, including his small village of Chrzanów. Up until the invasion on September 1, 1939, the Wiener family, Papa, Mama, and brother Schmuel and Hirsch had lived a comfortable happy life. His mother was a generous woman and every Shabbath she made sure there was enough food to share with the homeless and less fortunate.
But soon after the Nazis arrived, Jews no longer had any rights - they could not go to school, the park, to the synagogue, and a curfew was imposed making all Jews prisoners in their own homes. Before long, the Nazis came for Alter's father, killing him. A year later, they came for his brother Schmuel.
When Alter was 15, the Nazis came for him in the middle of the night. He never saw any of his family again. Atler was sent to a prison labor camp, where he and the other prisoners were always cold and hungry, and forced to work long hard hours.
While working in a German factory, a German worker caught his attention and pointed to a box. Later, Alter went to see what she was pointing at. Underneath a box was a bread and cheese sandwich. This went on for 30 day and Atler believes that this woman not only helped to save his life, but taught him the valuable lesson that "there are the kind and the cruel in every group of people."
After the Russian Army liberated the camp Alter was in, he tried to find the woman who had shown him some kindness at a time when kindness towards Jews was forbidden. He never did discover who she was, but he has never forgotten her.
Trudy Ludwig has taken the adult version of Alter Wiener's story and simplified it for younger readers, yet it never sounds condescending or patronizing. The book is written from Alter's point of view, and as he recounts his experiences, Ludwig is able to include a lot of historical information in his narrative about the Nazi occupation of Poland and about the horror that was the Holocaust without overwhelming or frightening the reader.
Gifts from the Enemy
was illustrated by Craig Orback. His realistic oil paintings are light in times of freedom, happiness or hope and appropriately dark during the days of Alter's imprisonment by the Nazis.
With its message of hope at the end, Gifts from the Enemy
is an excellent choice to begin the difficult talking about the Holocaust with children, especially as a read aloud. And to help do that, Ludwig has included information about hate, the Holocaust, a vocabulary for what might be unfamiliar words for many kids, as well as discussion questions and activities for young readers.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
|Neal Bascomb at the 2014 |
Association of Jewish Libraries Conference
In honor of Veteran's Day and to show our appreciation for those who strive to keep us safe, let's hear this interview with author Neal Bascomb about The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi. The young adult book, which was based on Bascomb's adult title Hunting Eichman, won the 2014 Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Teen Readers Category.
Press the play button to listen to the podcast now:
Or click MP3 FileCREDITS:Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast Twitter: @bookoflifepod Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to email@example.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.
Children in the Holocaust: Their Secret Diaries. Laurel Holliday, ed. 1996. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries is an almost must-read in my opinion. It is incredibly compelling and emotional. Memoirs are great. They are. I have loved many autobiographies and biographies. But diaries are a bit unique. They tend to stay in the moment; there is a rawness perhaps in the emotions. They capture specific moments in time. They record the best and worst and everything in between. These diary entries are well worth reading.
These children's diaries are testimonies to the fact that telling the truth about violence is not harmful. In fact, one wonders how much greater harm these boys and girls would have suffered had they not written about the horrific events they were experiencing. Far more dangerous than reading about atrocities, I believe, is the pretense that atrocities do not occur. To turn our eyes away and refuse to see, or to let children see, what prejudice and hatred lead to is truly to warp our collective psyche. It is important for all of us--adults and children alike--to acknowledge the depths to which humankind can sink. The children teach us, by sharing their own direct experience of oppression, that nothing is more valuable than human freedom. This lesson alone is reason enough to read and to encourage children to read, these diaries.
This book gathers together diary entries from twenty-two writers. The countries represented include: Poland, Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Belgium, England, Israel, and Denmark. Seven of the twenty-two writers are from Poland. Some writers survived the war. Others did not. I believe that all of these entries have been previously published in some format, in at least one language. The listed age refers to the writer's age for the first diary entry printed in the book. This book provides excerpts from diaries. None of the diaries, I believe, are reprinted in full. These excerpts represent the diaries as a whole, and provide a bigger picture for understanding the war.
- Janine Phillips, Poland, 10 years old
- Ephraim Shtenkler, Poland, 11 years old
- Dirk Van der Heide, Holland, 12 years old
- Werner Galnick, Germany, 12 years old
- Janina Heshele, Poland, 12 years old
- Helga Weissova-Hoskova, Czechoslovakia, 12 years old
- Dawid Rubinowicz, Poland, 12 years old
- Helga Kinsky-Pollack, Austria, 13 years old
- Eva Heyman, Hungary, 13 years old
- Tamarah Lazerson, Lithuania, 13 years old
- Yitskhok Rudashevski, Lithuania, 14 years old
- Macha Rolnikas, Lithuania, 14 years old
- Charlotte Veresova, Czechoslovakia, 14 years old
- Mary Berg (pseudonym), Poland, 15 years old
- Ina Konstantinova, Russia, 16 years old
- Moshe Flinker, Belgium, 16 years old
- Joan Wyndham, England, 16 years old
- Hannah Senesh, Hungary and Israel, 17 years old
- Sarah Fishkin, Poland, 17 years old
- Kim Malthe-Bruun, Denmark, 18 years old
- Colin Perry, England, 18 years old
- The Unknown Brother and Sister of Lodz Ghetto, Poland, Unknown Age and 12 years old
I won't lie. This book is difficult to read. Difficult in terms of subject matter. It is an emotional experience. Readers are reading private diary entries. The entries capture the terror and horror of the times. They capture the uncertainty that almost all felt: will I survive? will I survive the day? will I survive the war? will my family? will my friends? will I witness their deaths? will I have ANY food to eat today? tomorrow? how much worse can it get? when will this all be over? will I be alive to see the end of the war? what if the Nazis win? The diaries capture facts and details. But they also capture feelings and reactions.
Shootings have now become very frequent at the ghetto exits. Usually they are perpetrated by some guard who wants to amuse himself. Every day, morning and afternoon, when I go to school, I am not sure whether I will return alive. I have to go past two of the most dangerous German sentry posts..., Mary Berg, February 27, 1942, p. 233
Dr. Janusz Korczak's children's home is empty now. A few days ago we all stood at the window and watched the Germans surround the houses. Rows of children, holding each other by their little hands, began to walk out of the doorway. There were tiny tots of two or three years among them, while the oldest ones were perhaps thirteen. Each child carried a little bundle in his hand. All of them wore white aprons. They walked in ranks of two, calm, and even smiling. They had not the slightest foreboding of their fate. At the end of the procession marched Dr. Korczak, who saw to it that the children did not walk on the sidewalk. Now and then, with fatherly solicitude, he stroked a child on the head or arm, and straightened out the ranks. He wore high boots, with his trousers stuck in them, an alpaca coat, and a navy-blue cap, the so-called Maciejowka cap. He walked with a firm step, and was accompanied by one of the doctors of the children's home, who wore his white smock. This sad procession vanished at the corner of Dzielna and Smocza Streets. They went in the direction of Gesia Street, to the cemetery. At the cemetery all the children were shot. We were also told by our informants that Dr. Korczak was forced to witness the executions, and that he himself was shot afterward. Thus died one of the purest and noblest men who ever lived. He was the pride of the ghetto. His children's home gave us courage, and all of us gladly gave part of our own scanty means to support the model home organized by this great idealist. He devoted all his life, all his creative work as an educator and writer, to the poor children of Warsaw. Even at the last moment he refused to be separated from them. ~ Mary Berg, August, 1942, p. 239
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
In spring 1944, Hungary was occupied by German soldiers and in the city of Debrecen, a ghetto was formed at the end of April. Thinking her family was lucky because their apartment fell within the walls of the ghetto, Hanna Mendel continued to believe she would be able to attend Budapest Conservatorium of Music, where she had just been selected for a hard won place as a piano student.
But in the middle of a night in June 1944, a knock on the door by officers informed them that the Mendel family, parents, high-spirited, defiant older sister Erika and Hanna, 15, was ordered to assemble outside the synagogue at 8 the next morning. Before leaving, Hanna rips the C-sharp from her beloved piano and takes it with her. The next morning the Mendels, along with all of Debrecen's Jews, begin their long trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.
Once they arrive at Auschwitz, the family is split up, but luckily Hanna, Erika and their mother are able to stay together in the same barrack, even sharing a bunk. Put to work in the quarry, one day Hanna sees her music teacher playing piano with an ensemble made of up inmates and called the Birkenau Women's Orchestra. Piri thinks that maybe she can get Hanna a place in it.
When that doesn't work out, Hanna is sent to audition with five other inmates for the camp's cruel commandant. Believing she doesn't stand a chance at being chosen, the commandant leave the choice to his totally disinterested son, Karl Jager, who points to Hanna.
Day after day, Hanna trudges to the commandant's house to await the order to play for him and any guests he may have. The only perks to playing for the commandant is a warm shower everyday (the commandant detests dirt), shoes, a warm coat and a warm house while she's there. The only extra food is leftovers she must steal and risk getting caught and shot.
Gradually, however, she discovers that Karl Jager harbors his own dangerous secrets and is not as disinterested or as indifferent as she originally thought. When he treats her kindly, Hanna finds herself more and more attracted to him. But returning to the barrack at the end of each day, she sees that her mother and Erika are cold, starving and barely surviving. To make matters worse, her mother, who had started going mad during the roundup in Debrecen, is having more and more trouble surviving the selections each time they are done.
Their one hope is that the Red Army is really moving east as rumored around the camp and that they arrive in time.
Playing for the Commandant
is certainly a very readable book. I read it in one day. It is told in the first person by Hanna, a very observant 15 year old and on many levels her voice rings true. Her descriptions of the camp, of the cruelty inflicted on innocent people are spot on. When she talks about the lice, the smells, the moldy bread or about how skeleton thin her sister and the other women are becoming, you can clearly see and smell what she is describing.
Despite everything, Hanna'a father had told her to survive at any cost to tell the world what happened to the Jews of Europe and so, she is determined to do what her father wanted.
But when she talks about the danger of stealing scraps of leftover food, or of living under the pressure of always having to please the commandant, Hanna's fate feels just as capricious or dangerous as her fellow inmates. For example, when the gardener, a Jew, steps on the grave of the commandant's dog, he is shot in the head for it. But, when a girl at the commandant's house drops a tray with tea and cakes on it, I thought for sure that when she is removed from the house, she is also killed, but she shows up later, and I have to admit, I was surprised to see her again in the novel.
But, Hanna's growing romance with Karl is very most disturbing and a real flaw in the novel. I guess I thought Hanna should be thinking more about food than a boy. She didn't get that much more to eat than her sister, and what she got, she shared with Erika. Also, at one point, Hanna gets angry at the people, ordinary farmers, who watch her walk to and from the commandant's house every day and do nothing. I got mad at Karl for being against what the Nazis were doing to the Jews, but who passively sits by and watches it all happen. I would be curious to know how others feel about this part of an otherwise good novel.
Yet, despite this criticism, in the end, I thought that Playing for the Commandant
is definitely worth reading for its message of survival and hope, but not for its gratuitous romance.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This was an EARC received from NetGalley
Though Playing for the Commandant
is a complete work of fiction, Jews actually were often used to play music for the Nazis. Here is the obituary of Natalie Karp
, a famous pianist who played for Amon Goeth's birthday on December 9, 1943. She and her sister allowed to live because of the beautiful piano playing that night. Goeth was the cruel commandant of the Kraków-Plaszów Concentrtion Camp in Poland (you may recall Goeth from Schindler's List
It is Fall 1942 and the Nazis have been occupying Holland since Spring 1940. Beatrix, 6, and her mother are Jews who have been running and hiding from the Nazis for that long. But now it is time to hid Beatrix in a safer more stable place.
Sitting on the tram, on their way to meet the woman who would take Beatrix to safety, her mother is suddenly taken away by the Nazis who regularly board and search the trams looking for Jews. Beatrix is left sitting on the tram by herself.
Brothers Lars, 63, and Hans Gorter, 65, both life-long bachelors, work together on a tram - Hans driving it while Lars collects tickets. When it looked like the Nazis were also going to take Beatrix away, Lars suddenly told them that she was his niece. The war and all the rumors they had heard about Nazi treatment of Jews suddenly became real for the brothers.
Now, these kind, well-meaning though naive brothers must learn how to care for a little girl, who has been traumatized by the loss of her mother and who must become someone different than who she really is - if only for the duration of the Nazi occupation. Luckily, Hans and Lars have help from their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos, 80, and from a new, younger neighbor, Lieve van der Meer, 30, who husband is rumored to have escaped Holland and is flying for the RAF.
Why would two older men who have made it a point to always live quietly and keep a low profile, suddenly risk everything, including their lives, for a little girl they know nothing about? That is the question at the heart of The End of the Line
and Canadian author Sharon McKay answers it eloquently as the story of Beatrix and her new uncles unfolds.
There are lots of books about Jewish children who were rescued by people during the Holocaust and who did what they did simply because they believed it was the right thing to do. But these stories are generally written from the point of view of the child. What makes The End of the Line
stand out is that it is written from the point of view of the two brothers. and yet it is a thoroughly appealing, totally engaging book for young readers accustomed to reading about protagonists their own age.
Living under Nazi occupation meant living under a daily shroud of fear and anxiety, never knowing if you were going to be singled out at any given moment. There are plenty of these moments portrayed in the story of Hans, Lars and Beatrix, like the time Beatrix whispers Geb Achting
, Yiddish for be careful, to a young Nazi soldier. However, the story offers more insight into what it was like for the brothers in order to survive the war and the occupation of Holland, from dressing Beatrix as she grows, managing to find food when there is almost none to be had, even to buying her a doll to cuddle and comfort herself with may be new experiences for Hans and Lars, but keeping her safe from the Nazis turns out to be instinctual for these kind brothers.
The End of the Line
is an interesting supplement to Holocaust literature written for young readers by an author who is part of the Canadian War Artist Program and has already written books about child soldiers in Uganda, young girls caught in the war in Afghanistan and short stories dealing with the Holocaust with Kathy Kacer, another Canadian artist who also writes books for young readers about the Holocaust. This should be a welcome addition to any library.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received as an E-ARC from NetGalley
You can find more information and a very useful lesson plan for The End of the Line
from the publisher HERE
The Auschwitz Escape. Joel C. Rosenberg. 2014. Tyndale. 468 pages. [Source: Library]
The Auschwitz Escape is a compelling historical novel starring two wonderful heroes. Readers meet Jean Luc Leclerc a pastor who follows his heart and sets out to rescue as many Jews as he can. He "rescues" them by providing for the needs of refugees. He takes Jews into his home and hides them, he encourages every one in his town to do so. His rescue work continues for several years before he is arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz. Readers also meet a young Jewish man named Jacob Weisz. He is part of the Resistance, Belgium Resistance, I believe? He is doing his all to help as well. He too is captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. However they don't learn his true name for many months. Both men learn the upsetting fate of most Jews upon arrival. Both realize that it is not a work camp, but, instead a death camp. Both men are chosen by others in the camp to be part of an underground resistance. Both are chosen to be part of an escape program. They feel very strongly that several teams of two-men need to escape from the camp and seek not only immediate refuge, but, to be messengers. They feel that if the outside world had even a small clue what was happening, they would act, they would do something, they couldn't not do something, right? So Luc and Jacob are the third or maybe fourth team over a year to attempt to escape. Will their escape succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to find help? What will happen when they speak the truth?
The Auschwitz Escape is fiction. But there were men who did manage to escape who did carry messages and horrific proof about the camp with them to share with the outside world.
I would definitely recommend this one.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Recommended for ages 9-14.
World War II seems to supply authors, whether those for children or adults, with an inexhaustible supply of true stories for inspiration. Author Maryann Macdonald
turns to historical fiction in her new novel, Odette's Secrets
, about a young Jewish girl in Paris during the Nazi Occupation. Odette's story is told in spare free verse; we meet her Polish-Jewish parents who have immigrated to Paris with their only daughter Odette. Odette is beloved by her gentile godmother, the concierge at her building, and has a comfortable existence until her father joins the French military, is taken prisoner by the Germans, and conditions began to worsen considerably for the Jewish population of Paris. Soon the round-ups of foreign-born Jews begin, destined to be shipped off to the East. Odette's mother, realizing the danger, makes a plan for her daughter and the daughters of other friends to go stay with family friends in the Vendee, outside of Nazi-occupied France, where she will be in safely in the countryside with plenty to eat.
There's one wrinkle--Odette must forget that she's a Jew. She must blend in perfectly with the village children, learn how to cross herself, say Catholic prayers, attend mass, eat pork, in other words, do nothing that could distinguish her from other children in the village. She becomes very good at keeping secrets--even from her closest friends. But when her mother flees Paris to join her, suspicion follows them just the same. Can they stay safe? And what will happen after the war ends? Will her father and other relatives find them back in Paris?
This is a moving, small novel that can be read quickly but delves into real issues of prejudice, bravery, and how ordinary children can survive in dangerous and extraordinary times This novel is inspired by the life of the real Odette Myers, a story the author discovered while doing research in a Paris library; she was helped in this project by Odette's son, Daniel, who shared family photos and experiences. Highly recommended.
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By: Keith Schoch,
In discussing the persecution of European Jews in the years before and during World War II, my students would often ask, "How could they let this happen?
" Meaning, how could the rest of the world stand by and do nothing? For all the answers I can help students to find, I still can't answer this question myself.
The question asked nearly as often, however, is this: "Why didn't the Jews fight back?" But to that question I can readily answer, "They did. They did fight back. But realize that it wasn't just with guns; even children your age found ways to disrupt and defy the Nazis who tried to exterminate them."
In teaching the topic of Jewish resistance, I've found a great resource in an impressive series of six books from Enslow Publishing titled True Stories of Teens in the Holocaust
explores, through hundreds of primary documents and photographs, the diverse experiences of Jewish and non-Jewish youth caught up in the Holocaust.
Another terrific single-volume resource for any middle or high school classroom is Doreen Rapapport's Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
, published by Candlewick Press.
Check out the books below, and then read on for suggested sites for helping students learn history through analyzing primary sources.Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust
The popular title Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust
documents both violent and nonviolent defiance of Nazi terrorism, from the increasingly overt persecution of early 1930s Germany to resistance efforts in France to the twenty-seven days of the Warsaw uprising. Readers learn how subtle and secretive efforts by Jews and Gentile sympathizers disrupted and distracted occupying enemy troops in some circumstances, while outright armed resistance and acts of sabotage wreaked chaos and destruction in others.
From Courageous Teen Resisters
: Courageous Teen Resisters
is recommended as a stand-alone volume for students seeking to learn more about Jewish Resistance, as well an informational text companion to Heroes of the Holocaust: True Stories of Rescues by Teens
(available from Scholastic
The remaining five titles in the Enslow series are described below with a short publisher's summary or excerpt as well as recommended companion titles. This series is especially useful in text pairings not only to meet demands of the Common Core emphasis on informational texts, but to provide students with the necessary historical and social contexts needed to truly appreciate biography and historical fiction rooted in the Holocaust. (If you're seeking Holocaust texts for lower-level readers, be sure to check out my Annotated List of Holocaust Picture Books
).Youth Destroyed - The Nazi Camps
"Alice Lok was deported to Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, in 1944. Upon her arrival, she faced a "selection." Alice had to stand in line as a Nazi doctor examined the new camp inmates. If the doctor pointed one direction, it meant hard labor—but labor meant life. If the doctor pointed the other way, that meant immediate death. Alice was lucky. She survived Auschwitz and two other camps. However, millions of Jews were not so lucky." ~ from the publisher Youth Destroyed - The Nazi Camps
is recommended as an informational text companion to The Devil's Arithmetic
(gr. 6-8), Prisoner B-3087
(gr. 6-9; see my review here
), Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story
(gr. 4-6), Hana's Suitcase
(gr. 4-5), Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust
(gr. 5-7), I am a Star: Child of the Holocaust
(gr. 5-7), Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
(gr. 5-8), I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up In The Holocaust
(gr. 8-12), and Night
(grades 9-up).Trapped - Youth in the Nazi Ghettos
"(M)any Jewish youth living in the ghettos in Europe... faced death, fear, hunger, hard labor, and disease everyday. Millions of Jews were forced into ghettos, where the Nazis kept them until they could be deported to the death camps." ~ from the publisher
For this title I'd recommend Children in the Ghetto
, an interactive site which describes itself as
"...A website about children, written for children. It portrays life during the Holocaust from the viewpoint of children who lived in the ghetto, while attempting to make the complex experience of life in the ghetto as accessible as possible to today’s children.
Along with the description of the hardships of ghetto life, it also presents the courage, steadfastness and creativity involved in the children’s lives. One of the most important messages to be learned is that despite the hardships, there were those who struggled to maintain humanitarian and philanthropic values, care for one another, and continue a cultural and spiritual life."
By examining writings, artifacts, and first hand interviews, students gain an understanding of the "anything-to-survive" mentality which the ghetto created, and demanded, of its inhabitants. Students can explore freely, taking advantage of the interactive elements, or respond to prompts in writing using the printable handouts (I downloaded the handouts, available in Word format, and adapted them according to my lesson objectives).
Once students have interacted with this site, they will have a mental bank of sites, sounds, stories, and symbols from which to draw upon, greatly increasing their understanding and appreciation of this nonfiction text as well as any novel with which they're working.Trapped - Youth in the Nazi Ghettos
is recommended as an informational text companion to The Island on Bird Street
(gr. 4-6), Milkweed
(gr. 6-8), Yellow Star
(gr. 5-8), and Daniel's Story
(gr. 4-8).Escape - Teens on the Run
"Thousands of Jews lived on the run during the Holocaust. Some were able to escape Germany before the war started. Others had to move throughout Europe to flee the Nazis. And many more could not escape at all." ~ from the publisher
Escape: Teens on the Run
|From Escape - Teens on the Run|
is recommended as an informational text companion to Number the Stars
(gr. 4-5), The Night Spies
(gr. 3-5), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
(gr. 4-6), Escape: Children of the Holocaust
(gr. 5-7), Run, Boy, Run
(gr. 5-8), Once
(gr. 6-10), and Survivors: True Stories of Children of the Holocaust
(grades 5-8).Hidden Teens, Hidden Lives
"(T)housands of Jews went into hiding during the Holocaust. Barns, trapdoors, bunkers, secret attics, forged identity papers, and fake names became tools for survival." ~ from the publisher
The fate of Jews who were hidden is of special interest to students. Even in a classroom that chooses not to embark upon a full Holocaust unit, time can certainly be devoted to learning about Jews who went into hiding rather than face extermination by the Nazis.
The uncertainty of such a choice is reflected in this diary entry from Anne Frank which appears in the book:Hidden Teens, Hidden Lives
is recommended as an informational text companion to Number the Stars
(gr. 4-5), Jacob's Rescue
(gr. 3-5), The Upstairs Room
(gr. 4-5), Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival
(gr. 4-6), Anne Frank (10 Days)
(gr. 5-7), The Hidden Girl: A True Story of the Holocaust
(gr. 4-6), Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
(gr. 7-up), and The Book Thief
(gr, 8-up).Shattered Youth in Nazi Germany
"Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party's rise to power in the 1930s changed life dramatically for all people living in Germany. Hitler used propaganda, fear, and brutality as his main weapons. Jewish children faced strong antiSemitism in their schools and on the street, and saw their families ripped apart. Non-Jewish children deemed "undesirable" suffered a similar fate. "Aryan" children were forced to enter Hitler Youth groups or endure humiliation." ~ from the publisher
This book is a real stand-out as it not only chronicles the experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, but also Gentiles who were reluctant to submit to Nazi ideologies.Shattered Youth in Nazi Germany
is recommended as an informational text companion to The Big Lie
(gr. 3-5), The Boy Who Dared
(gr. 6-8), The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible . . . on Schindler's List
(gr. 5-9), Someone Named Eva
(gr. 6-9), Parallel Journeys
(gr. 6-8), The Book Thief
(gr. 9-up), Hitler's Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow
(gr. 6-12), and The Berlin Boxing Club
(gr. 9-12).Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
If you're looking for a single-volume resource for any middle or high school classroom, I recommend Doreen Rappaport's multiple award winning Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
, published by Candlewick Press.
Like all of Candlewick's titles, this text is supported by a number of resources available from the publisher's site, including a full page spread
, a teacher's guide
, an interview with a survivor
, and an audio excerpt
. The book itself includes primary source excerpts, maps, a pronunciation guide, timeline, index, and sources.
In speaking of her accomplishment (which took five years to research and write), author Doreen Rappaport says,
"How Jews organized themselves in order to survive and defy their enemy is an important but still neglected piece of history. I present a sampling of actions, efforts, and heroism with the hope that I can play a role in helping to correct the damaging and persistent belief that Jews ‘went like sheep to the slaughter.’"Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
A key resource for teaching Jewish resistance, and for discovering a multitude of primary sources, is the web site of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
, whose key mission is "to develop and distribute effective educational materials about the Jewish partisans and their life lessons, bringing the celebration of heroic resistance against tyranny into educational and cultural organizations."
Over 30,000 Jewish partisans, or “members of an organized body of fighters who attack or harass an enemy, especially within occupied territory.” joined the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish resistance fighters who fought the Nazis. Interestingly, however, their assistance was not always welcome, as antisemitism was often common in non-Jewish resistance groups.
This comprehensive and well constructed site offers teachers and students myriad free resources including:
- Professional Development modules which can be completed for continuing education credits (CEUs) (I highly recommend that prior to using this site you complete at least the first module, to better understand how to best access the site's videos, articles, lesson plans, student hand-outs, and more);
- An extensive film collection, containing 3 to 20 minute films trhough which students can "witness the Jewish partisans' stories of endurance, victory, and struggle;"
- Interactive maps of Jewish partisan activity;
- A Virtual Underground Bunker;
- An Image Gallery (captioned and sourced);
- Downloads for the classroom and a Resource Search option; and
- A very unique tool called Someone Like Me, where a students enter a combination of characteristics which describe themselves, and the site presents a partisan who matches those characteristics. Students can then explore the life and work of that partisan through any of the resource links above.
Because the impact of Holocaust education relies heavily upon students learning the true events of this tragedy, primary sources should play a role in every Holocaust unit. The JPEF site described above provides a wonderful collection of sources from which to choose, but below I have compiled a number of additional resources which educators may find useful in planning their instruction. As always, please reach out and let me know what other sites, books, and documents you've found useful.Why Should I Use Primary Sources?Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students
From Learn NC, a step-by-step guide for students examining primary sources, with specific questions divided into five layers of questioning.Primary Document Webinar
This hour long recorded webinar present teachers with not only reasons for using primary sources, but also ten really easy-to-implement ideas for starting with primary sources in the classroom.Making Sense of Evidence
This is a highly recommended collection of articles written by experts in the field on how to make sense of films, oral histories, numbers, maps, advertisements, and more. While written by the experts, students will find the language they use to be accessible. From the site:
“Making Sense of Documents” provide strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself then providing audio clips in which leading scholars interpret the document and discuss strategies for overall analysis.
Because of the career connections, this site is a valuable tool for achieving College and Workplace Readiness goals.Engaging Students with Primary Sources
from Smithsonian’s History Explorer site
A 64 page pdf that serves as an excellent introduction to using primary sources.Primary Sources Fitting into CCSS
Brief article showing how instruction with primary docs helps fulfill CCSS.Teaching the Holocaust with Primary Sources
From Eastern Illionis University, a Holocaust Unit utilizing resources provided by the Library of Congress.Library of Congress: Why Use Primary Sources?
Very brief pdf discusses reasons in bullets; good for making your point when discussing unit plans with others.Primary Sources Cautionary Tales
Considerations and concerns surrounding primary sources. Where Can I Find Lesson Plans with Primary Sources?I Witness
From the USC Shoah Foundation, this site contains over 1300 video testimonies and other digital resources, as well as assistance for educators seeking to use these tools in Holocaust education.Response to the Holocaust: Resistance and Rescue(Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center)
A pdf format document filled with original writings and suggested student activities; you can also download the entire curriculum
from the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center
.Jewish Resistance: A Curriculum from The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida
Lesson plans include original documents, along with suggested student questions to help analyze them.The Power to Choose: Bystander or Rescuer?
Popular set of plans that has been online for some time; used by many educators as a good starting place for planning units. Where Can I Find Additional Sites for Primary Sources?PBS Learning Media - Interviews with Survivors and Rescuers
A good online source for interviews.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Offers an ever-changing variety of resources, as well as searchable pages for research. Educators can often request free teaching materials as well. PBS Resources on the Holocaust
The search page of PBS provides a vast number of resources, including excerpts from shows which have appeared on public television.Oral History from Virginia Holocaust Museum
Oral History Project provides witness of survivors and rescuers.Dr. Seuss Went to War
Theodore Geisel was a radical political cartoonist who urged America to join "Europe's war,"
in large part due to the oppressive policies of Hitler's Nazi. But are Geisel's cartoons themselves a type of propaganda? See an earlier post here on Propaganda and Persuasion
.What Strategies or Tools are Available to Assist Students in Analyzing Sources?SOAPS Primary Document Strategy
This pdf provides information about the SOAPS acrostic, which students can easily recall for use in analyzing primary sources of information.Primary Source Analysis Tools from the Library of Congress
Several different tools in pdf form for analyzing oral histories, manuscripts, maps, movies, and more.Document Analysis Worksheets from National Archive
These pdfs allow for blank printing or for students to type directly on them and then print out or save; very handy for conducting analysis online.Analyzing a Primary Source Rubric
A rubric for scoring student efforts in using primary sources.
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By: Keith Schoch,
This week I received two emails from teachers asking what writing assignments I incorporated when teaching about the Holocaust. Although it largely depends upon the classes taught, I typically ask students to complete four writing assignments which are directly or indirectly connected to our Holocaust unit.
The first piece of writing students tackle, even before discussions of the Holocaust begin, is an argumentative piece called Citizenship Credits. That assignment is described in this post; you can download the prompt from there, or from below.
As students read the latter portion of The Devil's Arithmetic, they take notes on the camp rules and Rivka's rules using a two column chart created in their notebooks. Students record both the rules they discover, as well as the page numbers upon which they appear. They later use these notes for a second piece: a comparison-contrast essay. They use this very simple model or this very simple model to structure their essay, but their writing is, of course, much more complex, as all points need to be text supported and elaborated upon. (For students needing some further direct instruction in comparing and contrasting, you may find portions of this ReadWriteThink interactive to be helpful).
Should Sixth Graders Study the Holocaust? Once we've completed the novel, I challenge my students with this essay topic: "Should Sixth Graders Study the Holocaust?" The fact is, many parents and educators believe they should not. Students consult many online sources for support, including a speech by Jane Yolen which includes the "Alphabet of Evil," and a collection of quotes I've compiled. Some teachers may disagree with providing resources for their students, but after viewing many online sources which turned out to be inappropriate, biased, or simply hateful, I chose to provide students with some excerpts which I had personally vetted). A huge emphasis here is on recognizing and refuting opposing points of view.Improving the World A last writing piece which students produce nearly a month after our Holocaust unit is based upon an Anne Frank quote: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." In their responses, students provide examples of ways that others have improved the world, and ways in which they, in their present role as student, can do the same. This link shows how we organize the essay, and also provides many possible openings as well as ways in which to revisit those openings in the closing paragraph.Hope these suggestions help. What responses to Holocaust studies have your students written?
Most people are familiar with the story about how and why Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in the attic of her father's business in Amsterdam after Adolf Hitler's army invaded Holland. The diary she wrote as a young teenager is a priceless artifact of those terrible times. Anne, her sister Margot, and her mother did not survive after they were captured by the Nazis, only her father lived. But Anne diary has become a symbol of courage, innocence, and one of the most tragic periods in recent history.
But if you knew Anne and her family were hidden away from the Nazis, you also probably figured that there were more, many, many more that we haven't heard much about. Indeed, according to Marcel Prins, author of Hidden Like Anne Frtank,
approximately 28,000 Jews went into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Of those, around 16,000 survived, and 12,000 did not. Fascinated by his own mother's story of hiding and surviving, Prins collected stories of other children like her, and the result is Hidden Like Anne Frank
, fourteen true stories of surviving the Holocaust by Jewish youths, both boys and girls, stories that are all different, all dangerous, all told in their own words.
Prins begins the book with his own mother's account of going into hiding. Only 5 at the time, Rita Degen was forced to lie about her age and say she only going on 5, not 6, so that she wouldn't have to wear the required Yellow Star that marked her as Jewish. She was quickly removed from her first foster family when someone recognized her, but luckily placed by the resistance in another home, where she was wanted.
Frightened by the deportations, Bloeme Emden, 16, was one of the people to be called up. Her father managed to get it delayed, but that didn't last long. She was told that if she didn't show up, her parents and younger sister would be taken. Bloeme managed to get away again, but ultimately ended up in Auschwitz, where she ran into friends from school - Margot and Anne Frank. Her parents and sister did not survive the Holocaust.
Hiding, constantly needing to change your identity, both name and religion, forced to lie and to live in fear are all part of the stories by these fourteen survivors. At times, most of these youths managed to survive with the help of the Dutch Resistance, at other times, they simply survived by their own wits using creativity, stealth, craftiness. Some found themselves in situations where they welcomed and cared for, others were taken advantage of, or terribly mistreated. They were separated from their families and many never saw them again. All of their individual stories attest to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Hidden Like Anne Frank
is a fascinating, compellingly poignant collection of true stories. The individual accounts are not very long, but they certainly convey the fear and danger that al Jews in hiding were forced to live with day by day, never knowing if they would see tomorrow or not, if they would see their loved ones again or not. Prins has included lots of old photographs from the times before and after the children were hidden and at the end of the book, there are recent photographs of each person who contributed their story.
Hidden Like Anne Frank
book should have lots of appeal for young readers, many, no doubt, will be drawn to it by Anne's name on the cover. But it is also a perfect collection for any classroom when students begin studying World War II and the Holocaust.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was received as an eARC from NetGalley
Be sure to visit the website devoted to Hidden like Anne Frank
to hear more stories of survival told by these and other survivors.
This is book 1 of my European Reading Challenge
hosted by Rose City Reader
Young Uri loves to visit his grandparents. He sees his vacations there as a quiet respite from the daily routines and annoyances of life at home, especially his nagging sister. Grandpa Yuda always has time to play with him, and Grandma Genia loves to pamper him with hot chocolate and homemade cookies.
But Uri's favorite spot in his grandparent's home is Grandpa Yuda's study. In the study, Uri tells the reader, his Grandpa has a desk with three drawers and he is allowed to keep his pencil case and crayons in the first drawer. Grandpa keeps all kinds of little toys he used to play with when he was a boy before the war in the second drawer, and now, he lets Uri play with them. But the third drawer is always kept locked. No one, not even Uri, is allowed to open it and Grandpa never talks about what's inside.
Naturally, Uri can't help but wonder about that third drawer - what's in there and why it is a secret.
Then, one cold, rainy winter day, Uri finds himself home alone for a little while and decides to color. He goes into Grandpa's study to get his crayons, and there in the first drawer is a key, one he is certain would open the third drawer.
Sure enough, when he puts the key into the keyhole and turns it, the drawer opens. But just then, Grandpa Yuda walks into the room and catches him holding a yellow star with a safety pin, just one of the things Uri found in the drawer. At first, Grandpa is angry at Uri, but then he decides to tell him about the contents of the locked drawer.
Grandpa tells Uri about being sent to live in a ghetto with his parents and sister Anna, about how hungry he was there, because they were allowed so little food with their ration stamps. In the drawer, is the doll his mother made for Anna from rags, and the dominoes he made himself from wooden scraps while in the ghetto.
And he tells Uri about the day his family was separated by the Nazis, never to be seen again. His grandparents were sent to a concentrations camp, while his sister and parents sent somewhere else on trains. Grandpa Yuda was sent to a labor camp.
Uri tells us they stayed up late that night talking about these events and even afterwards, Uri had lots of questions which Grandpa always took the time to answer while they played with the homemade wooden dominoes.
The Holocaust is a delicate subject and it is hard to know when to talk to young children about it. For the children, grandchildren and now even the great grandchildren of survivors, that may happen sooner than for other kids, because they may hear things being said, or noticed the number on a grandparent's arm.
Whatever your reasons for starting a conversation about the Holocaust with a younger child, this gentlest of stories would be an ideal way to begin, just as Uri's Grandpa did. As Grandpa explains what happened to his family, he keeps the focus on his them and not on the Nazis.
The story is told in clear, simple language, and enough details are given for a child to understand what happened to Grandpa's and his family without becoming too graphic to frighten. This focus on Uri's family history also helps him to feel more connected to them and his Grandfather and is more emotionally age appropriate for a child around Uri's age (which is probably 6 or &). Details of Nazi atrocities will come later in Uri's life, when he can emotionally handle them better.
Grandpa's Third Drawer
was originally published in Israel in 2003, where it won the Ze'ev Prize for Children's Literature. It is newly translated picture book has now been published for young readers in English. The artifacts and illustrations used by Kopelman were used courtesy of Beit Theresienstadt Archives, in Givat-Haim Ichud, Israel
Grandpa's Third Drawer will be available on May 1, 2014.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was an eARC received from Edelweiss
It is 1992 and postmodernism is the dominent art movement of the moment. Rafe Sinclair, founder of The American Academy of Classical Art in New York City, is a classicist through and through, but now he is facing grumblings from some of his board member who think other art forms should be introduced, a board that wouldn't mind removing Rafe as head of the Academy.
But his Board isn't the only problem Rafe has. First, Rafe is a vampire and is trying desperatgely to hold on to his sense of humanity even as he is forced to kill in order to live. Second, Rafe was an art student in the 1930. He had met and fallen in love with a young Jewish woman, a fellow artist, just before World War II began, and he is still in love with her, although he believes she had perished in the Holocaust.
Tessa Moss is a young art student at the Academy, talented but naive and involved in an unhealthy relationship with another artist, the very narcissistic Lucian Swain. Rafe never really noticed Tessa's work until one day when he notices a sketch she has done of a woman with a child by a suitcase that has the name Witzotsky written on it. The woman is covering the eyes of the child with her hand. Rafe begins to take a special interest in Tessa and her work.
Witzotsky is a familiar name to Rafe and it turns out that Tessa has sketched a picture depicting a relative of hers named Sofia Witzotsky. And, in fact, Sofia is the very same woman that Rafe was involved with, the same woman he thought he had lost in the Holocaust. Or had he? After all, he never really knew what Sofia's fate had actually been? Before long, Tessa and Rafe are involved with each other, which is against school rules and just the kind of infraction the board could use to remove Rafe from his position as head of the Academy. But if Tessa can help Rafe discover what really happened to Sofia, maybe it was worth the risk.
Helen Mayles Shankman has written a long, complicated book encompassing two time periods, and a fair amount of different characters. It is very well written, engaging, compelling and I actually enjoyed the intricacies of the plot twists and turns. Rafe and Tessa are believable (well, except for the vampire part), well defined, likable characters, each carrying a lot of baggage that goes back to the Holocaust: Rafe may have lost the love of his life, and Tessa has lost one whole family line on her father's side.
The Color of Light
is a novel that will definitely please your romantic sensibilities, and your penchant for historical fiction and has all the elements of a good mystery novel all in one long (574 pages) story. Shankman has a MFA in painting, so her art/artistic descriptions are pretty spot on and you will have no trouble picturing works of art that don't really exist.
My vampire fan days are long behind me and vampires are certainly not something I expected to read about when I started this blog. And yet, I have certainly read my share of fantasy and science fiction here, so why not vampires? But the fact that Rafe Sinclair is a vampire is only a plot device allowing the narrative its dual time frame with him in both time periods as a man his age and it worked.
And generally the YA/Adult books I review here are of the cozy type, but variety is the spice of life and The Color of Life
is a spicy novel that could be classified as New Adult/Adult. What I mean is that it has more sexual content than most of the YA/Adult I review.
My friend Zohar over at Man of La Book
recommended The Color of Light to me and I am so glad he did. And I am paying it forward.
This book is recommended for mature readers age 15+
This book was sent to me by the author
A Reading Group Guide for The Color of Light is available HERE
The Jewish holiday, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins on Monday night, April 28. In honor of the millions who perished, as well as those who survived, I wanted to share with my readers an interview with
author Maryann Macdonald
of Odette's Secrets
(reviewed here at the Fourth Musketeer last month
). This novel tells the story of a young French girl who was hidden during the Nazi occupation, and thus survived the Holocaust. Thanks so much, Maryann, for visiting my blog today.
Q: There are so many books, even for young readers, that deal with World War II, particularly the European side of the conflict. Yet there are still so many stories to tell, with more books coming out every year. Please tell us how you discovered the true story of Odette, and why you considered it important to tell her story to young readers.
A: When I learned that 86% of French Jewish children survived the Holocaust by going into hiding, I was astonished. How had these children managed to reinvent themselves so successfully, I wondered? And how had it affected them? Then, by chance, I found "Doors to Madame Marie," a memoir by Odette Meyers at the American Library in Paris. I was so touched by Odette's story of her experience as a hidden child in France. I especially loved her description of the struggles she went through with all the necessary deception that was required to stay successfully hidden, and the affect this had on her developing identity. I had never seen a book that told this particular story about WWII, and I wanted to create a children's book about it for today's readers. Although Odette had passed away some years earlier, I learned that her son Daniel was alive and living in Paris. I called him and we met. He told me he that his mother had often told her story in schools, churches and synagogues, and he was sure that she would want it to live on. So I began the process of trying to recreate Odette's story for today's young readers.
|Right above the door is Odette's Paris apartment|
|Odette and Mama (photographer and family later deported)|
Q: Why did you decide to tell this particular story in free verse, rather than a more conventional prose style?
A: My first draft of Odette's Secrets was in third person. I wanted the story to be as accurate as possible, but I felt this version was too dry. Then I remembered that Odette loved poetry, and even thought its beauty helped her to survive her ordeal. She grew up to become a professor of literature, and wrote poetry of her own. So I set about telling Odette's story in first person, in blank verse, to access more accurately Odette's childhood voice. I wanted the book to seem as though Odette herself was telling her story to children. This turned the book into fiction, but nearly every single recorded detail is true.
|Odette's godmother, Madame Marie|
Q: Many of your many prior books for young people are picture books rather than novels. Did you ever consider telling Odette's story in a picture book format?
A: I have written many picture books, but also one other middle grade novel and quite a few chapter books. My latest effort is a young adult novel. At first I thought Odette's Secrets might be a picture book, but there was just too much story to tell. It is now slotted in for 10-14 year-old's, but I have heard from readers as young as 8. One of my oldest readers was himself a hidden child. He wrote to me to say he thought I had captured the experience quite accurately.
Q: In the current publishing climate, with the wild success of the Wimpy Kid series, dystopian novels like Hunger Games, and the continued popularity of fantasy series in the Harry Potter style, do you have any advice on how librarians, parents, and teachers can encourage children to explore historical fiction like Odette's Secrets?
A: I have developed a teacher's guide for "Odette's Secrets," which is downloadable on my website, www.maryannmacdonald.com. It offers many ways to draw readers into the book. Obviously, linking the story with the history curriculum, with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and with National Poetry Month might help. Not every book suits every reader, but Odette's Secrets has found many appreciative readers. Fans of this genre can discover other great WWII books I've enjoyed, from picture books on up, on the "Odette's Secrets" FB page.
Q: Can you share with us five children's books that made a big impact on you as a young person?
A: Like so many young girls of my time, I fell in love with the Little House Books, especially "Little House on the Prairie." Now that I think of it, that series has some similarities with Odette's Secrets: adventure, family closeness, life-threatening danger. I read every book in our local library on pioneer life, too. But I also loved books about England, especially "The Secret Garden," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," and "Mary Poppins." I think my love of English children's literature was partly responsible for the fact that when I grew up, I went to live in England for 23 years. And again, like so many girls of yesterday and today, I loved Nancy Drew. My granddaughter loves her, too.
Q: What books are currently on your nightstand? (or in your e-reader, if you prefer your books in that format?)
A: I just read "The Hare with the Amber Eyes" with my book group. I enjoyed that in paperback, but I LOVE my Kindle, too, and take it everywhere. Now I live in New York City, so I get a lot of reading done on the subway, so take my Kindle everywhere in my handbag. I'm reading "The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry" by British writer Rachel Joyce on it right now. I also listen to books on my I-Pod while walking in Central Park and while cooking. My latest cooking favorite is "The Hobbit" by Tolkein and my latest walking favorite is "City of Thieves," by David Benioff, about the siege of Leningrad. Background reading gets fitted in at the library and just before bedtime.
When Elsa, 6, discovers her grandmother, Dounia Cohen, crying one night, the little girl convinces her to talk about what's causing her tears. And so, her grandma begins telling her about her own life when she was Elsa's age living in Paris.
Her best friend was Catherine and they both had a crush on Isaac, and all three went to the same school. One day, when Dounia came home from school, her father was already there. He told Dounia there were to become a family of sheriffs and soon a yellow star was sewn onto her clothes. The next day, Isaac didn't show up for school and Dounia was told to sit in the back of the room, and learned that her star was meant to mark her as Jewish, not a sheriff.
When the police show up at the door one night, Dounia's parents put her into a hiding place and tell her to quietly wait for someone to come and get her. When her neighbor comes, Dounia learns that her parents had been taken away, and the apartment ransacked.
The neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Péricard, take care of Dounia in secret as long as they can, but eventually they learn that the police are planning a surprise visit to find her. Dounia's name is changed to Simone Pierret, but before they can get away, someone spots Dounia. She and Mrs. Péricard make it to the prearranged point for Dounia to be picked up and moved, but now Mrs. Péricard is also in danger and has no idea what happened to her husband. The two are taken to the farm of an older woman named Germaine by Resistance workers. Dounia had been told she must think of the Péricards as her parents, and now as Simone, she also becomes a young Catholic girl in order to keep her safe and hidden from the Nazis.
Dounia and Mrs. Péricard remain on the farm for the rest of the war, each wondering what became of their loved ones.
is the powerful story of a young girl who doesn't completely understand what is happening around her, why people suddenly dislike her and all other Jews so much and, most importantly, the sudden disappearance of so many people including her parents, How does one deal with this? Clearly, it took Dounia years to do that, since even her own son didn't know about his mother's experiences in Nazi occupation of France.
How does a young reader who is hearing about the Holocaust for possibly the first time deal with such a disturbing subject? Clearly, a book about the Holocaust for kids, whether it is a graphic or traditional picture book, requires a very fine balance between story, information, and illustrations so that the story gives just the right amount of age appropriate information, but not so much that you frighten kids. Hidden
is a book that is so powerful in its simplicity, to honest in it telling that it definitely achieves this fine balance.
The translation by Alexis Siegel from the original French into English contains no ambiguities, and the dialogue flows comfortably and naturally. I seem to be reading graphic novels about World War II and the Holocaust more and more lately, and they seem to be getting better and better. The illustrations by Marc Lizano are reminiscent of a child's drawing, though the background is more sophisticated. Still, the faces, even in their simplicity, really manage to convey a wide range of emotions - fear, sadness, anger, kindness, hate, love and ultimately even hope. And the colorist, Greg Salsedo, really gives the illustrations a sense of the time, place and mood using his color palette.
Dounia's story is similar to that of many children in France. In fact, in the Afterword, Hellen Kaufmann, president of the AJPN (Association Anonymes, Justes et Persecutés pendant la période nazie
) writes that 84% of Jewish children living in France before the war survived because of people like Mrs. Péricard and Germaine and the Resistance workers who found safe homes for them were willing to risk their own lives to hide and protect these children from the Nazis and the collaborating French police.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library
It's 1943 and Denmark has been occupied by the Nazis since 1940. One morning, when young Anett comes downstairs, her mother tells her that there are 'new friends' in the basement. Anett isn't the least bit surprised to hear this and simply goes downstairs to the secret room to bring breakfast to young Carl and his mother, Danish Jews waiting for a fishing boat that will take them to the safety of Sweden.
The nights are foggy and cloudy, and the new friends can't leave right away. Each day, Anett stops to pick up things they need - extra bread from the bakery, extra eggs from the farmer, extra books from the library for Carl to read. And at each stop, Anett whispers to the baker, the farmer, the librarian that there are new friends who need these extras.
But each day, on her way home, Anett sees the Nazi soldiers knocking on doors, looking for hidden Jews and with orders to arrest everyone in the house if any are found. Then one day, Anett sees the Nazi soldiers heading for her house. She hurries around to the back door, but when she enters, the house is empty.
When the Nazi soldiers knock, Anett tells them there are no Jews in the house, and though they go away, the solders do so with threats. Later, it becomes clear to her parents that they can't wait any longer. But how to get Carl and his mother to the harbor in a dark, cloudy, foggy night?
Well, young Anett has a solution. That night, as Carl and his mother leave the hidden room in the basement, all over the village there are whispers of "This way."
Jennifer Elvgren's simple depiction of this dangerous, yet heroic rescue makes this story all the more poignant. There is no sentimentality, but this gentle story shows ordinary people just doing what needs to be done to keep other people safe from Nazi hands. But it will no doubt elicit questions from curious young readers and is probably best read with an adult who can answer them age appropriately.
Fabio Santomauro used sparse, dark cartoonish illustrations that seem to work very well with the simplicity of the text and he has chosen a palette of the dark foreboding black, blues and grays broken up with bits of reds, yellows and khaki dialogue against an almost white background. The dialogue is done in word bubbles. This style may attract young readers and make them feel comfortable, but there is nothing cartoonish or funny about the story.
By now, most of us are familiar with the story of how Danish Jews were smuggled out of Denmark by Danes who refused to support and collaborate with their Nazi occupiers. In fact, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
, the Danes were the "only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens."
So it is no surprise that the best resistance, rescue and escape stories set in Denmark always come from real life. In her Author's Note, Elvgren writes that The Whispering Town
is based on one of the true stories from the fishing village of Gilleieje. And if Gilleieje sounds familiar to you, you may remember it from Number the Stars
by Lois Lowery. Elvgren writes, 1,700 Jews escaped from this small fishing village. In fact, Danes managed to evacuate 7,220 out of 7800 Danish Jews, 668 of their non-Jewish spouses.
|Gilleieje is the uppermost town in Denmark|
If you are looking for a way to introduce young readers to the Holocaust, The Whispering Town
will definitely help you do that.
This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was purchased for my personal library
So the Rialto, CA, school district has decided that maybe it’s NOT a good idea to have eighth-graders debate the existence of the Holocaust. I’m of two minds (Opposing Viewpoints: In My Head). While I see the chance for much mischief in such an assignment and believe middle school is too early for the kind of fact- and viewpoint-evaluation the topic requires, I also think this is a great focus for teaching high school students how to navigate truth, history, and propaganda. It could provide what the Common Core–at its best–asks students to do: “to use cogent reasoning and evidence collection skills that are essential for success in college, career, and life.”
Just so we’re clear: I’m not asking schools to “teach the controversy,” allowing students to decide for themselves in an all-viewpoints-are-respected-here kind of way about the historical reality of the Nazi genocide. What this lesson should instead teach them is how to distinguish facts from the ravings of racist whackjobs. The Anti-Defamation League’s L.A. office called the assignment dangerous, citing “the large volume of misinformation” on the internet, but doesn’t that volume also mean that people need to learn how to recognize pernicious claptrap when it’s presented to them?
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The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod. Avrom Bendavid-Val. 2010. Pegasus. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
The Heavens Are Empty is a compelling nonfiction read. Avrom Bendavid-Val has approached the subject matter with care and attention. This book is about a town--a village--that existed for a little over hundred years, the Jewish town of Trochenbrod.
Trochenbrod did not vanish slowly but surely over decades, it's death was not natural at all. After sharing his personal story, his behind-the-scenes look at his research process, his motivation for wanting--needing--to know more, he presents his findings in four chapters. The first chapter focuses on "the first hundred years." This is a look, a glimpse, at what life was like in Trochenbrod in the nineteenth century and a little beyond. If this book has a "happy" section, this would be it. The second chapter focuses on the decades between the first world war and the start of the second world war. Again, there are no great indicators of what is to come. The third chapter covers the years 1939-1942, readers see Trochenbrod under Soviet rule and under German rule. The fourth chapter is perhaps the most haunting, the most horrific. The fourth chapter focuses on how an entire village was massacred by the Nazis. This chapter includes three incredible accounts of survivor-witnesses.
The Heavens Are Empty is rich in witness accounts. It's a difficult subject to read about, but important in my opinion.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany. Steven Pressman. 2014. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany is a must-read. It is incredibly compelling and, in my opinion, unforgettable. It tells the true story of an American Jewish couple, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, and how they diligently worked to save 50 Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939. Why 50? Well. They faced obstacles. You might think the biggest obstacles they faced were in Nazi Germany, working with the Nazi regime/government. And no doubt the obstacles they faced when they actually traveled there themselves to do the paperwork and bring over the children were many. But. What might surprise you is how BIG the obstacles were in the United States that they faced. The truth: the United States knew about the ever-increasing risks and dangers facing Jews, they knew that it was a matter of life-and-death, but they did not care. They simply did not care. They did not want Jewish immigrants. Plain and simple. There were laws in place, and those laws were kept strictly, limiting the number of immigrants, of Jewish immigrants. And loopholes had to be found, in a way, to get even those fifty into the United States. Want to know another sad truth? The couple faced opposition from Jewish Americans, from Jewish organizations in America! The book tells how some Jews worried that by bringing MORE Jews into the country, it would increase prejudice and hatred towards them.
The book tells the remarkable story of the men and women involved in this rescue mission. It tells of their determination and stubbornness, their perseverance, how they would not stop until it was accomplished, how they would not quit and say well, we tried, but, there's nothing more we can do
. No, they could not turn away from what they knew to be right and good. It's an inspiring, courageous story.
I definitely recommend this one!
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Hidden Like Anne Frank. Marcel Prins. Peter Henk Steenhuis. Translated by Laura Watkinson. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
If I had to pick just a few words to describe this Holocaust collection, I would choose the words honest and haunting. Hidden Like Anne Frank is a collection of fourteen true stories of survival. All of these stories are set in the Netherlands during World War II. All focus on children (or teenagers) who hid from the Nazis. Anne Frank is perhaps the most famous hidden child from the war, but unlike Anne Frank, these are the survivor stories, the so-called happy-ending holocaust stories. Before I read the book, I would have considered the fact that they survived through the war enough to make it a happy ending. What I learned was that was not always the case.
What followed was years of tears. A whole lifetime. That war will not be over until I take my last breath. (211, Donald de Marcas)
The fourteen: Rita Degen, Jaap Sitters, Bloeme Emden, Jack Eljon, Rosemary Kahn, Lies Elion, Maurice Meijer, Sieny Kattenburg, Leni de Vries, Benjamin Kosses, Michael Goldsteen, Lowina de Levie, Johan Sanders, and Donald de Marcas.
I liked the fact that these were individual stories. Each writer, each survivor, has their own voice, their own story, their own message. No two stories really read alike. This is as it should be. Readers catch glimpses of what life was like before, during, and after the war.
I found Hidden Like Anne Frank was a book I had to read very slowly. To read more than two or three stories at a time proved too much. This one is not a light read. It is compelling and honest and important. But it is not easy.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 true stories of survival
by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis; translated by Laura Watkinson
An Arthur A. Levine Book; Scholastic. 2014
Grades 7 thru 12
To review this book, I checked a copy out from my local public library
Anne Frank recorded in her diary the two
years the Frank family spent in hiding during World War II. Though Anne’s story
In the Summer of 1941, the manager of the large animal reserve in the Ukraine, Askaniya-Nova, told his senior caretaker Maxim Borisovich Melnik to kill all the animals before the Germans arrived and did it themselves to replenish their dwindling food supplies.
But Max can't bring himself to do it, and when the Nazis arrive and take over the reserve, he is sure that the Well-educated, well-bred, well-spoken Captain Grenzman will spare the animals, especially his beloved untamable Przewalski's horses. But soon it is winter and the soldiers have to eat and little by little, the animals on the reserve are killed until only the small herd of Przewalski's horses are left.
Until the day Grenzman tells Max that he has received his orders from Berlin to "remove from the animal population of the Greater German Reich what is, after all, a biologically unfit species, in order to protect the line of decent domesticated horses…from possible contamination by your wandering pit ponies." (pg 25) Besides, the Nazis have run out of food again.
Meanwhile, Kalinka, 15, the only Jewish survivor of a Nazi mass shooting that included her entire family, has found her way to Askaniya-Nova, where she befriends and is befriended by the lead stallion and mare of the Przewalski's herd there, a most unusual thing for these horses to do.
Like Max, Kalinka witnesses and is horrified by the killing of the herd of Przewalski's horses and when it was over, she goes looking for the mare and stallion who had helped save her life to see if there is anything she can do for them. Not finding them, Kalinka returns to her hiding place, only to discover that the two horses have made their way back there, too. But the mare has a bullet lodged in her shoulder and Kalinka knows she needs to seek help from Max.
Max is overjoyed to see the two Przewalski's and welcomes Kalinka with open arms. He removes the bullet and puts the two horses and Kalinka in the abandoned waterworks buildings not far from his cottage. But soon, that becomes a dangerous place for them, as well, and the two hatch a plan to get both the horses and Kalinka to where they can find safety with the Red Army.
It's a dangerous plan, but if it doesn't work, it will be the end of the Przewalski's horses.
The Winter Horses
is based somewhat on the real shooting of Przewalski's horses by the Nazis during WWII, but the rest of the story should not be seen as a history but as a legend, which contains only an element of historic fact, but also has a rather mythical quality. Or at least, that is how Philip Kerr introduces this story of an unlikely hero, heroine and the two horses they want to save, and which accounts for the very understated element of fantasy in the novel.
I though that because of this legend quality Kerr gave his story, that writing the novel with an omniscient third person point of view really worked well. It provided just the kind of distancing that a novel like this needs. In fact, it reminded me of the original Kinder- und Hausmärchen
by the Brothers Grimm, which all had that same dichotomy of cruelty and kindness to them (unlike their prettified, disneyfied fairy tales counterparts of today) found in The Winter Horses
Even so, I suspect that this is may be as difficult a story to read for others as it was for me. The calm cruelty of Captain Grenzman and his obsessive need to eradicate the all horses was almost unbearable, mainly because it was so analogous to what was being done to the entire Jewish population.
Still, I highly recommend The Winter Horses
to anyone with an interest in WWII, and given what is going on in the Ukraine at the moment, readers may find this even more of an interesting read, asking themselves, as I did, will history be repeating itself here? After all, the Askaniya-Nova reserve still exists in the southern Ukraine.
Philip Kerr is a favorite author of mine, having written a wonderful mystery series about a detective named Bernie Gunther set in pre-war Berlin for adult readers. The Winter Horses
is his first historical fiction for young readers (but not his first work for kids - as Ms. Yingling
points out in her review, Philip Kerr also wrote a fantasy series, Children of the Lamp
, under the name P.B.Kerr).
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Random House has an educator's guide to The Winter Horses complete with CCSS tie-ins that can be downloaded HERE
If you would like to know more about Przewalski's horses, you might this article in Scientific American
interesting, or this entry on Wikipedia giving the history of Przewalski's horses
or the history of Askaniya-Nova
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By Arlene Stein
If talk of the Holocaust was in the air when I was growing up in the 1970s I was barely aware of it, even in New York City which was home to a large Jewish population, many of whom were Holocaust survivors. We did not learn about the Holocaust in school, even in lessons about World War II, or about the waves of immigration to America’s shores. There was barely a category of experience called “the Holocaust.” The genocide of European Jewry was generally subsumed under talk of “the war.” A patchwork memorial culture was forming, but it was modest, somber, locally-based, and generally not seen as relevant to non-Jewish Americans. In encounters with family and neighbors in the early postwar years, survivors often felt misunderstood, unrecognized, and even shamed.
Today, in contrast, the genocide of European Jewry is a frequent subject of Hollywood films and part of US high school curricula. Our losses are much less private; now they have a name and a hulking museum in our nation’s capital. Few in the West would deny that remembering the Holocaust is one of our responsibilities as human citizens.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Bridges by Cumulus Clouds. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A number of historians have shown how American Jewish organizations gradually came to recognize the Holocaust and call for its public commemoration. But what of the efforts of survivors and their children? Paradoxically, they have been left out of such histories.
Interviews with survivors and descendants, and my own experiences, suggest that children of survivors were instrumental in bringing Holocaust stories into the public sphere. For decades after the war, few survivors talked openly about what they had endured, fearing that others did not want to hear, and trying to protect their children. That changed in the 1970s, when their children moved into adulthood. Influenced by feminism, the ethnic revival, and therapeutic culture, they began to probe their parents’ pasts, bringing their private stories of trauma into public view. In families where so many ghosts shared the dinner table, this was exceedingly difficult to do. Building a Holocaust memorial culture entailed a great deal of work: emotional, material, and political.
But even today, in the midst of a robust memorial culture, the Holocaust remains forbidden territory. We distance ourselves from it, bathing it in Hollywood homilies to the power of human kindness. We draw boundaries around it, housing it in concrete structures, hoping to contain it. A sense of fatigue seems to be setting in: many Jewish Americans yearn to be an ethnic and religious group defined by foods and ritual customs, rather than by pain and suffering.
A number of years ago, I sat in Carnegie Hall listening to the Klezmatics meld the music of the shtetl with contemporary folk. They had performed a song in Yiddish that spoke of the genocide in a small Polish town. As one of the performers translated the lyrics for the audience, a man sitting in front of me turned to his wife and said facetiously, “Oh that’s very uplifting.” It jarred his sense of what is suitable to perform in public, and what constituted entertainment.
More and more, one hears ambivalence about the fact that the genocide has emerged as a core element of Jewish identity. Like other Americans, Jews wish to move on from traumatic pasts. As sociologist Nancy Berns writes: “Closure offers order and predictability instead of ambiguity and uncertainty.” It allows us to “get on with our lives” and resume expectations of productivity and forward trajectories.
The permanent association of Jewish identity with victimization is highly problematic, to be sure. Jews, particularly in the United States, are no longer collectively powerless, even if they consistently perceive anti-Semitism to be more endemic to American society than public opinion polls say it is.
For much of the world the continued strife in the Middle East and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories captured in 1967 diminishes Jewish claims to moral authority and sympathy on the basis of past suffering. So do specious Holocaust analogies, such the recent claim by private equity titan Stephen A. Schwartzman that asking financiers to pay taxes at the same rate as those who work for a living is comparable to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
Still, those who say that the past is behind us and that we need to move on fail to appreciate what a hard-won accomplishment Holocaust consciousness was, how much resistance those who tried to speak openly about the genocide often encountered during the first decades after World War II, and how important it has been for survivors and their children to finally be able to share their stories. In this light, the call for Jews to stop talking so much about their tragic past may be awfully premature.
Arlene Stein is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers and the author of Reluctant Witnesses: Survivors, Their Children, and the Rise of Holocaust Consciousness. Her writing has appeared in The Nation, The Forward, and Jacobin, among other publications.
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