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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: holocaust, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 152
1. Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer

It's June 1964 and Sara Barry, 18, has been living at the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls ever since she was a baby.  But now, after a fire completely destroys the building, it is time for Sara to strike out on her own.  Before she does that, Mrs. Hazelton, the home's matron, decides it is time for Sara to discover who she is.  All she has to give Sara is a certificate from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, a doctor's note written in a foreign language and a small Star of David on a chain.

It seems that Sara's mother, whose name was Karen Frankel,  had been in Auschwitz, had actually survived until the camp was liberated, but then succumbed to TB in a DP or displaced persons camp shortly afterwards.  Sara was born in Germany soon after the war ended, and sent to the home in Canada.  Her Jewish background is a complete surprise to her.

Now, armed with the $138.00 gift from Mrs. Hazelton and her own savings from her waitress job, Sara decides to go to Germany and try to find the doctor who signed the certificate that sent her to Canada.  Perhaps he has some information about her mother and father.

Arriving in Germany, Sara immediately heads to Föhrenwald, site of the former DP camp and easily locates Dr. Gunther Pearlman, the doctor who had certified her healthy to travel, even though she actually had TB as well.  But as soon as the doctor sees the papers she has with her, he turns on her and tells Sara to get out and go back to Canada, he has no information that would help her.  Dr. Pearlman does make a one night reservation at a small inn run by an older lady named Frau Klein, and asks his helper, Peter, a boy around the same age as Sara, to escort her there.

Dr. Pearlman may want Sara to leave the next day, but Sara has other plans and with Peter's help, and Frau Klein's kindness, she decides to stay for the rest of the week.  Luckily, Peter speaks perfect English (as does Dr. Pearlman), so he can translate for her.  Sara quickly discovers that Föhrenwald is still home to many Jewish survivors and their children, including Frau Klein, the doctor and Peter's parents.

But uncovering information about her parents isn't easy in the country that just wants to forget about what had happened there.  Yet, perseverance does pay off and while all the loose ends are neatly tied up by the end of the novel, some of what Sara discovers is difficult for her to accept, and I have to admit, I wasn't expecting the ending to twist the way it did.

I found this is a very interesting example of a post-war historical fiction novel.  By setting it in the 1960s, Kathy Kacer shows the reader a world that wants to forget what happened, others who, like Sara, really don't know about what happened under Hitler's tyranny, even as racial prejudice is still openly practiced.  Mrs. Hazelton didn't keep Sara's Jewish identity secret because she didn't like Jews, but because she wanted to protect her from any lingering anti-Semetism.  And Luke, Sara's loser boyfriend in Canada, proves the point, with his hatred of Jews and blacks, seen in the way he goes after Sara's friend Malou.

Stone on a Grave is an emotional, insightful novel about a young woman trying to discover who she really is.  It was named a 2016 Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Reader category and I am happy to say that I will be interviewing Kathy Kacer as part of the Sydney Taylor Blog Tour  February 11, 2016 on my blog Randomly Reading.  You can find a complete list of winners and the blog tour schedule HERE

Be sure to read the Author's Note for more information about the aftermath of the Holocaust.

In the Benevolent Home, Sara was one of a group of girls Mrs. Hazelton considered to be her "special seven."  Like Sara, each girl is given whatever information Mrs. Hazelton has about who they really are, plus $138.00 she had put aside for them to start them on their way.   Sara's story is part of a seven book YA series called Secrets that follows each girl on their journey towards self-discovery. Each novel is written by a different author, providing a variety of stories and insights.


This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library


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2. Hana's Suitcase

Hana's Suitcase. Karen Levine. 2002/2016. Crown Books. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Would I recommend Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This would be a great introduction to the subject of the Holocaust for elementary students. (My first "Holocaust book" was The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Do you remember your first Holocaust book?) One reason why I think it would be a good fit for young readers is the way the subject is approached. It is unusual and unique. It is a story about children learning about the Holocaust for the first time. It is about the learning process--the research process as well.

Chapters alternate between the present and the past. The "present" story begins with an empty suitcase, "Hana's" suitcase. This is an object found in a Japanese Holocaust museum. The children--and the director--are eager to know WHO IS HANA? They know her birth date, that she was Jewish, that she ended up in a Nazi concentration camp. But who was she? what did she look like? what was her family like? what was her childhood like? What happened to her? Did she survive? Did she die?

The present chapters narrate this learning-process, this investigation. I love that it illustrates history-coming-to-life, how fun and exciting history can be, even how relevant and important it can be to ask questions, to be persistent, to follow leads, etc.

There are also chapters set in the past that tell Hana's story, and tell it almost from her point of view. Readers ultimately learn that much of this information came from her brother who did survive the war. Because the chapters alternate, readers will get the answers to some questions before the people in the book.

I liked how these two stories come together. This one is worth reading.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who? by The Anne Frank House

In 2005, the United Nations issued a declaration stating that January 27th would be designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It only seems fitting to remember the victims of the Holocaust with a new book
about the secret annex where Anne Frank, her family and four other people hid from the Nazis in the annex of her father's business at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam for more than two years.

Anne is a young girl whose short life has resonated in the lives of so many young people since her diary was first published.  The Diary of a Young Girl.  It is a moving account of Anne's life in the Annex, in which readers discover Anne's humorous side, her mischievous side, her budding sexuality, her hopes and dreams.

But Anne wasn't alone and although she mentions names and incidents in her diary, what do we really know about the other people in the Annex?  Or the helpers on the outside?  What did the people in the annex do all day?  What did they eat? Where did their food and other needed items come from?

The decision to hide from the Nazis, to live in such close quarters for more than 2 years, from July 1942 to August 1944, couldn't have been an easy one to make and definitely requited a plan, detailed organization, and the help of trusted people who could provide them with food and other necessities.  

Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who is a comprehensive book that brings it all together so that we may understand the risks and dangers everyone connected to Prinsengracht 263 faced on a daily basis.

The book begins with a very brief history of post WWI Germany, Adolf Hitler's rise to becoming the German chancellor in 1933, blaming the Jews for all of the country's problems.  Otto Frank immediately decided to leave Germany and settle in the Netherlands.  There he set up his business at Prinsengracht 263.  But in 1940, after Germany invaded the Netherlands, they immediately put anti-Jewish regulations in place, making life harder and harder for all Jews living there, until, in 1942, Otto Frank moved his family once again - directly into hiding.

The book continues with description of the daily routine of the hiders, food and it distribution, and other daily discomforts, how holidays and birthdays were celebrated.  Even a detailed description of the building they were hiding in.

This is followed with detailed biographies of all the people in hiding, those that helped them, other people who worked in or around Prinsengracht 263, even the cats are included.  Any one of those peripheral people could have (and may have) turned in the people in the annex to the Nazis if they became aware of their presence.

Anne Frank and her diary have held the attention of readers, young and old, since it was first published, but the publication of Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who? gives readers a more detailed, more rounded out picture of who each individual was, making them more human and less the shadowy people we know from the diary.  

It's hard to imagine what it must have been like to be cut off from everyone and everything for more than two years, never going outside, never even breathing fresh air from an open window, and living in silence day by day.  This is an ideal book to be used in conjunction with Anne's diary as a way of introducing the Holocaust to young readers.

The book also contains an abundance of photographs, some never before published of everyone and everything related to the secret annex, including photos of all the helpers.  There are also maps, including one of the concentration camps that the hiders were sent to after being discovered, a Concise Timeline along with the Lifeline of helpers and hiders, and a useful Glossary, a list of Sources, and suggestions for further reading.

Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who? is available only as an ebook.

And on this 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Day,  please take a moment today to think about all those who were victims of this tragedy, those who didn't survive as well as those who did.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Open Road Media

Curious about Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who?  Here's an excerpt you can read:

Excerpt
“Daily Life in the Secret Annex”

                  “At a quarter to seven, the alarm clock went off in the Secret Annex. The eight occupants would get up and wash before the warehouse workers arrived at half past eight. After that, they had to keep noise to a minimum. They walked in slippers, avoided the creaking stairs, and didn’t use any running water. Coughing, sneezing, laughing, talking, or quarreling was absolutely forbidden. To kill time, the eight would spend the morning reading and studying. Some did needlework, while others prepared the next meal. Miep, working in the office on the first floor, along with Johannes, Victor, and Bep, would go upstairs to the Secret Annex to pick up the shopping list.

“It’s twelve thirty. The whole gang breathes a sigh of relief,” Anne wrote. At noon, the warehouse workers went home for lunch and the annex occupants could relax a little. The helpers from the office usually dropped in, and Jan Gies sometimes joined them. At one o’clock, they all listened to the BBC on the illegal “little baby radio” before having lunch. After the lunch break, the helpers went back downstairs and most of the occupants took naps. Anne often “used this time to write in her diary. Silence prevailed for the rest of the afternoon: Potatoes were peeled, quiet chores done for the office, and reading and studying continued, while below, the helpers worked in the office. Miep and Bep would slip out during the afternoon or after office hours to work their way through the shopping list, which usually included food, clothing, soap, and even birthday presents.

When the warehouse workers left at around half past five, Bep gave the occupants a sign. As the helpers returned to their own spouses or families, the Secret Annex came to life: Someone would grab the warehouse key and fetch the bread, typewriters were carried upstairs, potatoes were set to boil, and the cat door in the coal storage bin was opened for Peter’s cat, Mouschi. Everyone had his or her own task. After dinner, they sometimes played a game. At around nine o’clock, the occupants prepared for bed, with much shuffling of chairs and “the folding open of beds. They took turns going to the bathroom. Anne, being the youngest, went first. Fritz stayed up late studying Spanish in the office downstairs. By about midnight, all of the people in the Secret Annex would be fast asleep.

On Saturday mornings, the warehouse workers would put in half a day’s work, but in the afternoons and on Sundays, the Secret Annex occupants took time for a full sponge baths in a tub, each in his or her own favorite spot in the building. The laundry was done then, too, and the Secret Annex was scrubbed and tidied. There were businesses located in the two adjacent buildings, so during the weekends, the occupants didn’t have to be quite so cautious. But the curtains always remained closed.”


More Curious about Who Was Who?
Five anecdotes behind the faces of the Secret Annex

• While everyone was assigned chores, Peter was instructed to haul the heavy bags from the greengrocer up to the attic. On one occasion, “one of them suddenly split open and a torrent of brown beans went cascading down the stairs. It was weeks before the last beans were found, they had been wedged into every nook and cranny of the stairwell.”

• The Annex’s Romeo and Juliet: Anne Frank’s roommate and the eldest occupant of the Secret Annex, Fritz Pfeffer - the only one without family or loved one at his side - was gripped with loneliness. His evenings were filled with writing letters to his “Lotte,” his great love Charlotte Kaletta, a Catholic woman whom he was forbidden to marry due to the Nuremberg Race Laws. He relied on Miep to serve as messenger to deliver the letters where he professed that Charlotte’s love will strengthen him.

• Miep was deemed the pack mule and carrier pigeon for the eight inhabitants of the Secret Annex. “Every Saturday, she also brought along five library books, which the Secret Annex occupants eagerly looked forward to. ‘Ordinary people don’t know how much books can mean to someone who’s cooped up,’ Anne wrote.”

• After the betrayal that led to the Secret Annex’s exposure and the inhabitants’ arrest, the ladies were sent to Westerbork transit camp where they “were forced to dismantle batteries, a dirty and dangerous business. The workday began at five o’clock in the morning. Seated at long tables, the women broke open batteries in order to remove the carbon rods. Then they picked out the sticky brown mass, which contained poisonous ammonium chloride. Finally, all the components were separated for use in the arms industry.”

• When Frank Otto, Anne’s father and lone survivor, returned to the Secret Annex, he “found the rooms practically empty and abandoned. For him, that emptiness symbolized the loss of his fellow sufferers who had not returned from the camps. For this reason, Otto later decided that the Secret Annex should remain this state.” 

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4. Adam & Thomas by Aharon Appelfeld, illustrated by Philippe Dumas, translated by Jeffrey Green

Early one morning, towards the end of WWII, a mother and son leave the ghetto and head towards the nearby forest.  There, she leaves her son Adam, 9, telling him not to be afraid, he knows the forest well from all the times he had visited it with his parents before the war came, and promising to come for him if she can that evening.  He is left with a blanket, a knapsack with food, a book and some jacks, 

Adam spends the day walking around the forest, thinking about it and his life with his parents and his dog Miro before the war and the ghetto.  His mother doesn’t return that evening.  

The next day, Adam meets Thomas, also 9, and also left in the forest by his mother with the same promise to return for him in the evening.  Adam and Thomas know each other from school, though they had not been friends there.  They spend the day in the forest, and that evening, their mothers again fail to return.

By day, Adam and Thomas forage in the forest for food, and talk to each other about their situation.  Their talks begin to take on a philosophical nature, about faith, God. and intellect.  Positive thinker Adam believes God will help get them through, negative thinker Thomas relies of study and education, which isn’t happening for him now.

Adam and Thomas decide to build a nest in a high tree for safety, partly because of the fugitives  running through the forest, pursued by Nazis shooting at them.  They both understand they will also be shot if found since they are Jewish.  Every day. the two boys wait for their mothers, who never come for them.  One day, however, while trying to help a wounded man attempting to escape the Nazis, they learn that the ghetto has been liquidated and everyone sent to Poland.  

Luckily, they also discover a cow in a meadow and begin to get some milk from her every day.  One day, a young girl their age comes to milk the cow.  It is also a girl from their class named Mina.  Mina is hiding from the Nazis in a peasant’s home.  After the boys try to make contact with her, Mina begins to leave food for them whenever she can. 

Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, and soon a kind peasant tells them the Red Army is not far away, the war could be ending, and, meanwhile, he also begins to leave food for the boys.  Then, one day, out of the blue, Adam’s dog shows up with a note from his mother attached to the underside of his collar.  

The weather begins to get colder and colder and soon, snow starts falling.  One day, the boys see a figure wading through the ever deepening snow, and realize it is Mina, who has been very badly beaten by the peasant she lived with and thrown out into the cold and snow.

How will the children survive the cold harsh winter, with only small amounts of food and no real shelter, and not even a fire to warm themselves by.  And can two young boys really nurse Mina back to health, or will it take a miracle to make that happen? 

I have to admit that I found Adam & Thomas to be a bit of a strange story.  It was originally written in Hebrew and loosely based on author Aharon Appelfeld's real life experiences.  It is also his first book for children.  The philosophical conversations between Adam and Thomas aren't so deep or adult that middle grade readers won't understand them, but they may be a bit disconcerting, since it isn't something young readers may be used to.  But there are not explanations for some things (like why was Mina beaten? And there is no closure to anything, including the ending).


That aside, Adam & Thomas is a compelling story about suffering, survival, optimism, friendship, and especially acts of kindness during some very dark, difficult days.  Appelfeld's writing is clear and simple, with short declarative sentences and few adjectives for the most part.  


The story of the two boys, including the animals and people they encounter, has a unrealistic quality to it.  Appelfeld says he writes from a dreamlike or artificial/imitative-like world in the kind of style used in the Bible, all of which, I think, is what gives Adam & Thomas its fable-like feeling.  But make no doubt about it, this is a story based on truth, on horrific circumstances and you never forget that while reading.


Adults and young readers interested in the Holocaust shouldn't miss this small but totally accessible and powerful book, which, I think, will also make an big impact on readers not particularly interested in WWII or the Holocaust.


This book is recommended for readers age 8+

This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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5. Enough with the Holocaust Books for Children!


It all started with Marjorie Ingall’s Tablet article, Enough with the Holocaust Books for Children. As she says in the article, "if you dropped an alien into the children’s section of a library, it would think Jews disappeared after World War II.” Then Arthur A. Levine shared Marjorie’s article on Facebook, commenting that “this smart article says many things that I’ve been saying for a while.” Twenty comments later, Elissa Gershowitz and Yael Levy had thoroughly discussed the difficulties and triumphs of getting NON-Holocaust books for kids published, and Barbara Bietz and I (blogger and podcaster, respectively) had started wondering aloud how we could bring more attention to these issues. Thus, this podcast episode was born.

AUDIO:


Or click Mp3 File (63:19)



BOOK LIST of mostly non-Holocaust great Jewish kidlit
(titles mentioned during the podcast or submitted later by panelists)


I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin
An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin
My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth
Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Becoming Darkness by Lindsay Francis Brambles
Samir and Yonaton by Daniella Carmi
Hush by Eishes Chayil
Deadly by Julie Chibarro
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier and Greg Salsedo
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, How Mirka Met a Meteorite, How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle
The Importance of Wings by Robin Friedman 
Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser
The Path of Names by Ari Goelman
The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz
The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani
The Rabbi and the 29 Witches by Marilyn Hirsh
Feivel’s Flying Horses by Heidi Smith Hyde
Never Say a Mean Word Again by Jacqueline Jules
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel
Sam and Charlie (and Sam Too) by Leslie Kimmelman
About the B’nai Bagels by E.L. Konigsburg
Albert Einstein by Kathleen Krull
all books by Anna Levine
The Very Beary Tooth Fairy by Arthur A. Levine
Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy
Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust by Leanne Lieberman
Proxy by Alex London
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin
The Cats in the Doll Shop by Yona Zeldis McDonough
The Doll Shop Upstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty
As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson
Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King by Richard Michelson
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor
Wonder by RJ Palacio
When Life Gives You OJ by Erica Perl
Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov
Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Pinkwater
Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival by Marcel Prins
Chik Chak Shabbat by Mara Rockliff
Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin
Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen
Looking for Me by Betsy Rosenthal
The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner
Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin
Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder
Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind and Haveli by Suzanne Fisher Staples
Kindred by Tammar Stein (series)
All of a Kind Family (series) by Sydney Taylor
New Year at the Pier by April Halprin Wayland
I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz
Company’s Coming by Arthur Yorinks
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti
 


CREDITS:

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 
 
Support The Book of Life by becoming a patron at Patreon.com/bookoflife!
 
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.


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6. Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

When the Germans arrive in June 1941, life changed for the Jews living in Prużany, a small town in Belarus.  For 17 year-old Zlatka Sznaiderhauz and her family - mother, father, younger brothers Iser and Lázaro, younger sister Necha - life became more and more difficult.  Restrictions meant no freedoms, no school, no jobs, little food and eventually life in a Nazi-created ghetto.  Before long, daily lists began to be posted for transports to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  On the third day, the Sznaiderhauz family was on the list.

Separated from her father and brothers, when they arrive at Auschwitz, Zlatka and Necha are sent to the right of the selection, her mother and brother Lázaro to the left and immediate death.

As Zlaka's story unfolds, so does Fania's in alternate chapters.  Fania, 18, is sent away from her home in Bialystok by her family to Augustów in the hope of saving her life since she looked the most Aryan.  Fania is quickly  arrested for being Jewish and sent first to Lomża Prison, later to Stuffhof, where she learns that the Bialystok Ghetto has been liquidated.  Heartbroken, Fania realizes she has lost her entire family.  Eventually, Fania, and the three friends she made in Lomża are transported to Auschwitz.

Finding themselves in the same barracks, at first Zlatka shuns Fania's offer of friendship, but after Necha's death, it is Fania who pulls Zlaka out of what could have been a fatal depression.  The two become friends and family to each other, determined to survive the brutal treatment they are subjected to in Auschwitz.

For Fania's 20th birthday, Zlatka decides to make her an origami birthday heart, an act of defiance that could cost them their lives. Zlatka does whatever she needs to - stealing, bartering, swapping - to get the materials for the heart.  When it was done, it was passed to every girl at their work table, 15 in all, to sign and add their wishes for Fania.  Even those girls who didn't speak Polish understand the importance of signing the heart.

Fania, Zlatka and the birthday heart survived Auschwitz, survived the death marches they were sent on at the end of the war, and survived the war.

Fania's Heart
Paper Hearts is a novel based on a true story.  It is written in free verse and I feel that the
form and content of the story coalesce so beautifully that the reader can almost feel as though they are travelling side by side with Zlattka and Fania through everything.

Meg Wiviott got the idea for this novel after seeing a 2010 documentary film called A Heart in Auschwitz.  The film chronicles the filmmakers quest to find Zlatka and Fania and bring them together again.  Intrigued, Wiviott began her own research, which included hearing Zlatka and Fania's Shoah testimonies (Zlatka's in Spanish, Fania's in Yiddish( and a visit to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre to see the actual heart, which is on display there.

This is a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of friendship, hope and love in the midst of so much brutality, death and hate.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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7. Somewhere There Is Still A Sun

Somewhere There Is Still A Sun. Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy. 2015. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Looking to read a memoir of the holocaust? Michael Gruenbaum has teamed up with Todd Hasak-Lowry to write Somewhere There Is Still A Sun. This memoir is not reflective. In fact, it is actually written in present tense, first person present. I must admit that took a bit of getting used to on my part. In a way, it almost seems unnatural. But. It wasn't a distraction either. I did not stay focused on the mechanics of how it was written for long. I did get swept up in the narrative. And with good reason, it is compelling and intense.

There is an innocence to the narrator, to Misha, for he is as sheltered as he possibly can be as a Jew living in a Nazi-occupied country. That is, Misha hasn't really grasped how life-and-death the situation is. Misha is still focused on life, on things like playing soccer and going to the movies. His mother and older sister seem to be keeping some things from him, for better or worse. And these things don't come to the reader's attention until the author's note. (Do all readers read authors' notes? I do. But I'm not sure everyone does.) Because of Misha's innocence, many readers may know more than he does. (Though maybe not all readers. I don't want to presume that every single reader will have read five or six holocaust books by the time they come across Somewhere There Is Still A Sun.) It is an interesting position to be put in as a reader, to know more than a character.

Misha's memoir focuses on his time in a Jewish ghetto in Prague, and, in Terezin. Terezin is still relatively new to me to read about, so I found this one fascinating. For example, Misha takes part in one or two of the plays held in Terezin.

What I appreciated the most about Somewhere There Is Still A Sun is the focus on relationships--the bonds between characters. Misha is separated from his mother and sister for many years. He is one of many assigned to a room. (I want to say that forty young boys shared a room?) Relationships matter in books, and it really gives one a complete story.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. The Safest Lie by Angela Cerrito

On the day that Jolanta brings a little food, some used clothing and a few vaccinations against typhoid fever to 9 year old Anna Bauman's youth circle in the Warsaw Ghetto, she decides to go home with Anna.  Quietly talking to her parents, Anna knows something is up.

After Jolanta drops off a paper for Anna's mother one morning, she begins to stay home as her mother makes her memorize a new name and other information.  Soon, she is no longer Jewish Anna Bauman, rather she is Catholic Anna Karwolska.  A few days later, Anna and her parents go to a home in the ghetto, where Anna is washed clean of ghetto dirt, and soon the leader of her youth circle, Mrs. Rechtman, shows up to take her away.

Wearing a new school uniform, Anna and Mrs. Rechtman go to the administration building, a building that straddles the ghetto and the streets beyond it.  Swiftly, Anna is passed to a woman who takes her into an office, where she must hide under the desk and wait for someone to come and get her.  The wait is long, but finally a teenage girl carrying a large box arrives and tells Anna to follow her.  They walk out of the building to the streets beyond the ghetto.  From here, Anna travels with the girl to a farmhouse, where she is surprised to find out that the box she and the girl carried so carefully contains a baby that has also been smuggled out of the Ghetto.

At the farmhouse, Anna is taught the traditions, the prayers and the catechism every Catholic child would know, including when to stand or kneel in church.  She is drilled over and over, until she responds automatically to being Ann Karwolska.  Afraid she is going to forget who she is and who her family are, Anna only allows herself to be Anna Bauman at night when she is alone in bed.

Eventually, Anna is sent to a Catholic orphanage away from Warsaw.  Keeping her secret, Anna adjusts to like in the orphanage, even though one girl, named Klara, seems to be out to get her.  Does Klara know her secret?  Hopefully not, because one day, Nazis arrive at the orphanage, pillage it and steal all the food that the nuns used for feeding the children, but not before terrorizing everyone.

Eventually, Anna is fostered out to a family that really welcomes her, and where she feels somewhat safe and comfortable.  Yet, Anna still makes it a point to remember who she is and where she came from when she is alone at night, never telling anyone her secret.  But, as Anna discovers, Stephan, Sophia and their son Jerzy are harboring a secret of their own - a very dangerous secret.

If you have ever wondered what happened to the children that Irena Sendler smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto, this is the book for you.  Based on fact, Angela Cerrito has imagined the life of one young girl who survives the Holocaust thanks to the courageous efforts of Sendler and the network of people who were helping her.  It is clear from the start that the lady Anna knows as Jolanta is one of the code named used by Sendler.

And while The Safest Lie doesn't have a lot a action, it does have a lot of suspense, nail-biting tension and shows the reader just how careful and clandestine people in the resistance needed to be.  Anna's story is fictional, but Cerrito has certainly captured all the tension, fear, constant hunger, and suffering that the Jewish children experienced during the Holocaust.  But she also shows the difficulty and mixed emotions parents must have felt when their children were offered the possibility of safety if they were willing to temporarily give them up.

The Safest Lie is a work of historical fiction but it is based on the hundreds of transcripted interviews with children who survived the Holocaust that Cerrito read and which give the novel its sense of authenticity.  Be sure to read Cerrito's Author's Note at the end of the book about her meeting Irena Sendler

There is an extensive Educator's Guide for The Safest Lie available to download from the publisher, Holiday House


This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher.

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9. Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust

Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust. Ruth Thomson. 2011. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Terezin is a small fortress town in the Czech Republic. It was built in 1780 by the Austrian emperor Joseph II and named after his mother Maria Theresa. The town might forever have remained largely unknown to the rest of the world. Instead it attained notoriety. During the Second World War, the Nazis turned Terezin into a ghetto and renamed it Theresienstadt. Here, they imprisoned thousands of Jewish people--first Czechs, then Germans, and, later Danish and Dutch. Many were then sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Ruth Thomson provides readers with a short and concise history of Terezin (Theresienstadt) during World War II. Her narration does an excellent job piecing things together. The book is RICH in primary sources. You might be thinking that means diaries, journals, memoirs, interviews, and the like. And you'd be partly right. But it is also rich in artwork. There were talented--very, very talented--artists at work in the ghetto or camp. They drew--or painted--what the Nazis wanted or demanded. But they also worked secretly on their own pieces--pieces that document what life was really like there, the atrocities they faced daily. Through words and art--readers truly do get "voices from the Holocaust." The book provides a summary of what was going on in Europe starting with when Hitler first came to power in the early 1930s. The focus is on this one particular camp/ghetto, but, Thomson provides enough context to give readers a fuller picture of what was happening.

I have read many books about the Holocaust, about World War II. I haven't read as many about Theresienstadt, so this was a great introduction for me. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Liesl's Ocean Rescue by Barbara Krasner, illustrated by Avi Katz

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

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11. Holocaust consciousness must not blind us

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.

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12. Sydney Taylor Award Blog Tour: The Whispering Town, by Jennifer Elvgren (Kar-Ben, 2014)


I am honored to welcome to my blog today author Jennifer Elvgren, the author of The Whispering Town, winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Older Readers category. The Sydney Taylor awards are given out annually by the Jewish Libraries Association for new books for children and teens that "exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience." The Whispering Town tells the story of an ordinary heroine, a young girl named Anett, who together with others from her Danish village community, help hide a Jewish family until they can escape from the Nazis.  The story is illustrated in graphic novel style by Italian illustrator Fabio Santomauro. Jennifer kindly answered some questions for me as part of the Sydney Taylor Award winners blog tour.  The complete blog tour schedule, which runs from February 8 to the 13th, can be found here.  

Author Jennifer Elvgren
Q: The Danish people's heroic efforts to save "their" Jews are one of the few "feel-good" stories from the Holocaust.  What inspired you to create a picture book on this topic? 
A:  Somewhere around late elementary, early middle school, my grandmother gave me her copy of The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, and my mother gave me a copy of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. From a young age, I pondered the bravery of those hidden and the bravery of those who protected the hidden. I carried this interest in Holocaust literature as I grew and started my writing career as a print journalist. When I began writing solely for elementary children after my second child was born, I wondered if there was a way to tell a Holocaust story to a younger set of readers. Around 2009, I read Ellen Levine’s nonfiction book Darkness over Denmark: The Danish Resistance and the Rescue of the Jews. One Jewish boy recollected his father trying to find the Gilleleje harbor on a moonless night and villagers stood in doorways giving him directions. As I read this, I could see the storyboard in my mind – Anett and her parents hiding a Jewish family and enlisting the village to whisper them to safety.
 
Q:  Could you comment on the unique challenges of writing a book aimed at young children on the Holocaust?  
 
A:  For the youngest readers, I wanted to portray danger, not horror. I intended this book to be the start of a lifelong discussion of the Holocaust, focusing initially on kindness and bravery. In early drafts of The Whispering Town, I went too far the other way and watered down Anett’s character. I never had her come face-to-face with Nazi soldiers. After a meeting with my critique group, there was consensus that Anett must face the soldiers. By not doing so, she would have been robbed of her greatest chance to be brave. Now I believe that was the best decision for her. Anett was able to dig down deep, think fast on her feet and face her greatest fear.
 
Q:  What kind of research did you do for this story?  Is Anett based on a real girl?  
A: In this story, Anett is a fictional character, and I researched the occupation of Denmark and the Danish Resistance, which smuggled almost all of the Danish Jews out of Denmark.
 
Briefly, on April 9, 1940, at 4:14 a.m. Germany began the invasion of Denmark by land, sea and air. The invasion lasted six hours, which was the shortest operation in WWII. The Danes knew the attack was coming but were denied permission to fight, as the Danish government did not want to provoke the Germans. Denmark cooperated, but did not collaborate. As a result, King Christian X stayed on the throne and continued to live at the palace in Copenhagen. From 1940 to October 1943 resistance to the occupation mostly took the form of bursts of national pride like when King Christian X took his daily ride through the Copenhagen streets to meet throngs of flag-waving Danes, a few scattered acts of sabotage, strikes and a slow down of the workforce.
 
During the summer of 1943 Danes had grown weary of the occupation and their acts of sabotage became more violent including riots in Copenhagen. In August 1943, the Germans declared a State of Emergency and by September, Hitler approved the deportation of Danish Jews to death camps.
 
Danes were horrified. People from all walks of Danish life – clergy, government workers, storeowners, farmers, fisherman, teachers, police and the coast guard – protected Jews. The Danes hid Jews in barns, cellars, hospitals, summerhouses, churches and warehouses. They loaned boats and gave money to hire boats to smuggle Jews out of the country to neutral Sweden. The Danes also protected Jews’ houses and belongings until after the war.
 
Q:  The Whispering Town shows young children the heroism in ordinary people, as opposed to the superheroes that delight so many children.  In this case, the heroes are not Spiderman or Batman, but a small girl, a baker, a librarian, and a farmer.  How did you happen to choose these three professions to represent the Danish people?  (Of course, as a librarian, I am delighted by the choice of a librarian!)  
 
A: In times of crises, and anytime really, food and words bring comfort, healing and love. When my friends are facing illness or sadness, I deliver homemade food and/or books to their doorsteps. With Carl and his mama so frightened in her cellar, it seemed natural for Anett to bring them her favorite food and books, to feed their bodies and souls.
 
Q: As an author, how did you feel about the illustrations Fabio Santomauro drew for your text?  With their graphic novel feel, they are quite different from the illustrations in most of the picture books about the Holocaust.
A: When I saw the first pencil sketch, I was surprised at the graphic novel style. I had expected something more realistic. As I scrolled through the rest of the sketches, it dawned on me that this would feel less frightening to children – more accessible – the goal that I had set to achieve with the words. It was a brilliant pairing on the part of Kar-Ben. When I saw the final art – the muted palette, the pops of red, the facial expressions – it was love at first sight.   
Jennifer, thanks so much for participating in the Sydney Taylor 2015 blog tour! Please check out interviews with other winners throughout this week (see blog tour schedule below).

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2015
Una La Marche, author of Like No Other
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At Bildungsroman

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2015

Lizzie Skurnick, publisher of Isabel's War by Lila Perl
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At Pen & Prose

Author Jennifer Elvgren and illustrator Fabio Santomauro, creators ofThe Whispering Town
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At The Fourth Musketeer

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2015

Loic DauvillierMark Lizano and Greg Salsedo, creators of Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At The Interlace Place

Author Jim Aylesworth and illustrator Barbara McClintock, creators ofMy Grandfather's Coat
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At Sandra Bornstein's Blog

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2015

Author Barbara Krasner and illustrator Kelsey Garrity-Riley, creators ofGoldie Takes a Stand
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At Write Kids' Books

Donna Jo Napoli, author of Storm
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At Jewish Books for Kids

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2015

Donna Gephart, author of Death by Toilet Paper
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Monkey Poop

Author Jacqueline Jules and illustrator Durga Yael Bernhard, creators of Never Say a Mean Word Again
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At Ann Koffsky's Blog

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2015

Blog Tour Wrap-Up with All Authors and Illustrators
At The Whole Megillah
 

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13. Women of Valor: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich by Joanne D. Gilbert

When we think of partisans and resisters to the Nazis, most of us don't usually think about women.  After all, it was a hard, dangerous business to fight such a cruel regime.  But, as we learned from Kathryn Atwood's informative book, Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue, many women were willing to risk everything, including their lives, to fight for what they believed to be right.

Now, Joanne D. Gilbert has written a book that tells us about even more brave women and since March is Women's History Month and this year's theme is Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives, it seems a perfect time to showcase Women of Valor.

Between 2012 and 2014, Gilbert interviewed four women who had lived with their families in Poland, but who, through different circumstances, had found their way in the surrounding forests and either joined partisan groups or found other ways of resistance when the Nazis occupied their country.

Manya Barman Auster Feldman had lived a religious, comfortable life with her parents, 3 sisters and 2 brothers in Dombrovitsa in eastern Poland until Hitler invaded it in 1939.  Suddenly, life became harder and harder and eventually all of Dombrovitsa's Jewish families were crowded into a two block ghetto.  When it appeared likely that the ghetto was going to be liquidated, Manya's father decided her, Manya, her older sister and two brothers would try to escape into the forest, leaving behind her mother and two little sisters.  Walking all night, they found the Kovpak partisan headquarters, where they were sent to different battalions.  Manya, still just a teenager, soon learned how to fight, steal, sabotage the Germans efforts, and nurse the sick and wounded.  Her story, as are all the stories included in Woman of Valor, is harrowing and amazing at the same time, and Manya herself credits luck for her many narrow escapes from death while she fought with the partisans.

Faye Brysk Schulman was also living a comfortable, religious life with her family in Lenin, Poland.  Her  older brother had learned photography and had enlisted Faye to help him.  It was her knowledge of photography that saved Faye's life when the ghetto they had been forced to live in was about to be liquidated, it was her job to take the photos that the Nazis demanded she take.  In September 1942, Soviet partisans stormed through Lenin, and warmed the remaining Jews to run.  Faye, still a teenager,  found the partisans, joined the Molotavia Brigade, where she spent the war years fighting, nursing and photographing events whenever she could steal, make or find what she needed.

Even though the rest of her family was Polish,  Lola Leser Lieber Schar Schwartz was born in Hungary/Czechoslovakia.  In 1938, when the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia, the Polish passports of her immediate family were no longer acceptable there.  The Lesers, including Lola, quickly fled to Poland and their extended family.  Little did Lola dream that after being continuously on the run from the Germans, hiding in all kinds of weather and places, including under a tree in the forest, it would be her Hungarian/Czechoslovakian birth that would save not just her life, but many others when she received official documents exempting her from the same treatment as the Polish Jews.  Needless to say, these documents sparked a flurry of forging more "official" documents for other Jews in peril.  Later, when her husband Mechel Lieber was arrested, Lola was even brave enough to go the Adolf Eichmann's office to try to convince him that it was a mistake.  Lola was indeed a woman of great courage.

Miriam Miasnik Brysk is the youngest of the women interviewed.  Only 4 years old when the war started, Miriam's family left Warsaw, Poland for Lida, her father's home then under Russian rule.  But when the Germans arrived in Lida in 1941, it didn't take long for persecutions to begin.  The Miasniks were fortunate because Miriam's father was a surgeon and the Nazis needed him.  In 1942, Miriam and her parents escaped the Lida ghetto with the help of a partisan group that decided they needed a doctor more than the Nazis did.  Miriam spent the rest of the war going from place to place with the partisans.  Her hair was cut off and she was dressed like a boy, had not formal education until after the war, but did possess her own gun for a while.  And she helped out wherever she could, even taking apart machine guns, cleaning them and putting them back together.

As each woman tells her story, it feels as though she is speaking to you personally, making this a very readable book and I highly recommend it.  As they wove their stories, each remembered in great detail what their lives were like before and under the Nazi reign of terror and each acted with remarkable courage.  Sadly, they all lost almost all the members of their families, often witnessing their murders.  Glibert doesn't let them stop at the end of the war, but we also learn about their lives after and up to the present.  Interestingly, they all found ways to express their Holocaust experiences though art later in life.

These are only four stories about acts of resistance, however, and, as Gilbert reminds us in Epilogue, most of the women who chose to resist the Nazis perished, taking the details of their courageous deeds with them, reminding us that what we do know about women resisters is really just the tip of the iceberg.  But let all these brave women, known and unknown, be an inspiration to us all in the face of oppression.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Gihon River Press

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14. Emil & Karl (1940)

Emil and Karl. Yankev Glatshteyn. Translated from the Yiddish by Jeffrey Shandler. 1940/2006. Roaring Book Press. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I love the idea of loving Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn. Emil and Karl was written in 1940 in Yiddish. It is set in Austria. It is the first--or at least among the very first--book written for children about the persecution Jews were experiencing from the Nazis.

Emil and Karl have always, always been best friends. Emil's Jewish. Karl's the son of socialists. Both are "orphans" in a way because of the Nazis. The book opens with intensity: readers first glimpse of Karl is haunting. Karl's mother has been taken away by the Nazis. He's witnessed this: not only the arrest, but the beating too. He's alone in the apartment, feeling very alone, very frightened, very worried. For they told him they'd be back to take him too. He doesn't know what to do next, where to go, who to trust. He decides to run to Emil's house. Emil's world has also been devastated within the past day or two. His father was taken and killed. His mother is grieving and shattered.

Karl and Emil are very much on their own it seems. The two stick together no matter what. They'll face danger and be put into difficult situations time and time again. There are many scenes that stay with you.

But while I find the premise of this one fascinating, it isn't the absolute best book about the holocaust. It may be among the first, but, that doesn't make it among the best of the best. Worth reading? I think so if you already have an interest in the subject. But if you only read one book on the subject, I'd have to recommend you go with another book.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Determined (2014)

Determined. A. Avraham Perlmutter. 2014. Mascherato Publishing. 172 pages. [Source: Review copy]

For anyone with an interest in World War II and/or the Holocaust, you should consider reading the memoir Determined by A. Avraham Perlmutter. I am always eager to read more, so, I was happy to receive a copy of this for review.

The first third of the memoir focuses on the war itself. On his experience as a Jew during World War II trying to survive. Readers also learn about his family, his background, his childhood, Hitler's rise to power, etc. Everything readers need to know and understand to appreciate his personal story.

The final two-thirds of the memoir focus on his life AFTER the war sharing his experiences in Europe, in Israel, and finally the United States. This section focuses more on moving on with his life and establishing himself. Readers see him as a survivor, a soldier, a student, a husband, a father, and an engineer. The story of his life is so much more than just a surviving-the-war story.

The book includes plenty of photographs and documents to supplement the story.

I'm glad I read this one.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Mister Doctor: Janusz Korczak & The Orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto by Irène Cohen-Janca, art by Maurizio A.C. Quarello

Janusz Korczak was a well-known, well-respected children's pediatrician in Poland in the early part of the 1900s.  Among his many accomplishments, he had founded an orphanage to care for some of Warsaw's young Jewish orphans. He loved children and would often regale his charges with stories he made up, including the now classic tale of King Matt the First, as well as looking after their health and cheering them up with their needed it.  And the children loved him back, affectionately calling him Mister Doctor.

On November 29, 1940, all the orphans living in the big orphanage at 92 Krochmalha Street in Warsaw, Poland were ordered to leave by the Nazis.  Accompanied by Mister Doctor and his assistant Madam Stefa, all of the children walked to the ghetto that would be their new home for a while carrying their meager belongings, softly singing, and the flag of King Matt the First.

Their new home is small, located within a two block radius, surrounded by barbed wire and armed watchman, their living quarters are cramped and dirty.  When their wagon full of potatoes were confiscated by the Nazis, Mister Doctor put on his WWI uniform and went to Gestapo headquarters, where he was laughed at, ridiculed, beaten and temporarily arrested.

Life in the ghetto grew more and more crowded as more Jews were brought in, food became scarcer and scarcer, with men, women and children dying in the streets everyday from starvation and disease.  Finally, in August 1942, the children were ordered to the train station and from there to a concentration camp and death.  But Mister Doctor was offered his freedom, after all, he was a famous doctor.  Instead, he refused and choose to accompany his children on this final journey.

The story Mister Doctor is told by a young boy named Simon to a younger, newly arrived orphan named Mietek.  Simon describes in detail how the orphanage was run, how the children were educated and how Mister Doctor took such special care of all of them.  At the same time, Simon is talking about past, he also gives detailed information to the reader about what is going on in their present situation.  Cohen-Janca has really captured the sense of longing and nostalgia in Simon's voice when he talks about life in the orphanage before the Nazis invaded Poland, and the fear and apprehension he feels about what is to come.

The story told here is a fictional reimagining of what happened to Dr. Janusz Korczak and the children in his care, but based on the true story of what happened to them during the Holocaust.  Pay particular attention to the last three paragraphs of this book and ask yourself who wrote them and why?

Like Michael Morpurgo's Half A Man, this book also looks like a chapter book with only 68 pages a simple narrative style and many illustrations, but it is also deceptively complicated and really for a middle grade reader.

The realistic black and white illustrations set against a marbled peach background are a precise reflection of the words that Cohen-Janca has written, and give the reader a real-to-life sense of the children, the doctor and their lives from 1940 to 1942.  Little touches, like the figure of Puss in Boots leaping over the barbed-wire fence of the ghetto as Simon talks about how that cat and his courageous deeds always gave the orphans courage.  But there is a subtext that says the Nazis can take away housing, food, dignity, but not the stories that means so much and help the get kids through very difficult times.

This is a powerfully poignant story that shouldn't be missed.  Additionally, at the end of Mister Doctor is information about the real Janusz Korczak, whose real name was Henryk Goldszmit, followed by a briefbut useful list of Further Reading and Resources, Children's Books by Janusz Korczak, Resources for Parents and Teachers and Related Links.

Mister Doctor was translated by Paula Ayer

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC received from NetGalley

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17. The Wren and the Sparrow by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

It's hard to imagine that such a lyrical story could be written about a time as terrible as the Holocaust, but that is exactly what J. Patrick Lewis has done in this new picture book allegory.

The story takes place in a small town in Poland that has shriveled up under the occupation of the Tyrant and his Guards.   Living in shadow, an old man nightly plays his hurdy-gurdy, singing so beautifully, he is called the Wren by his neighbors.  He has on music student - a young girl called the Sparrow with fiery red hair.

One day, the Guards order all the residents of the town to turn in their musical instruments.  The Wren brings his beloved hurdy-gurdy but begs to allowed to play one more song before handing it in.  As he plays, the whole town begins to sing.  At the end of his song, the old man gives his instrument to the Guards and disappeared himself, never to be seen again.

The instruments are all thrown into a pile to be destroyed later.  But later that night, the Sparrow sneaks into the storage area and finds the hurdy-gurdy.  Inside it is a hidden note from the Wren to the Sparrow.  She takes the instrument and note and hides the them in the hope that they will survive the war and be found in the future and that the finder will know exactly what happened in this small town in Poland and the world will never forget.

I think this is a wonderful example of an allegorical story, Allegory, you will remember, is typically used as a literary device that uses symbolic figures, events etc for revealing a more complex issue or meaning in a work with a moral or political message.  Here, Lewis uses symbolic types rather than realistic characters, - the Wren, the Sparrow, the Guards, the Tyrant - in an abstract setting - a small town in Poland - to achieve maximum impact of this Holocaust story about the Nazi occupation and the the fate of Europe's Jews.   The result is a powerful multi-layered picture book for older readers that should not be missed.


Patrick's words and text reminded me of the way Expressionist writers sought to convey feelings and emotions in an anxious world.  Here his words are simple and elegant in contrast to his topic, but at the same time so very ominous.  Unlike Eve Bunting's excellent Terrible Things: an Allegory of the Holocaust, another picture book for older readers, which ends on a note of hopelessness, The Wren and the Sparrow sees hope for the future.

Perhaps following Patrick's lead, Yevgenia Nayberg's expressionistly styled illustrations are painted in a dark palette of yellows, greens and browns that ends in a lighter illustration done in bright blue-green at the end, symbolizing a message that even in the darkest of days, hope can survive.  Illustrations and text compliment and enhance each other throughout this allegory.

And be sure to read the Afterword at the end of the story that explains how Lewis was inspired by the street musicians and performers in the Lodz Ghetto.  In fact, performers and music were a sustaining force in ghetto life under the Nazis and Lewis has written a beautiful homage to them in The Wren and the Sparrow.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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18. Escape in Time by Ronit Lowenstein-Malz

Living a comfortable life in Tel Aviv, Nessya, 12, is stunned to hear that her grandmother, Miri Malz, has been invited to speak at her school's Holocaust Remembrance Day program.  Nessya has never heard her happy, smiling grandmother speak being a Holocaust survivor, and besides, she doesn't even have at tattoo AND she has her family's old photo albums - items always destroyed by the Nazis.

When Nessya and her friend Rachel cook up a scheme to get into Grandma Miri's apartment to search for evidence while she is out to look for clues, the plan backfires.  But, is Grandma Miri really a survivor?  For almost two weeks, Grandma Miri keeps to herself, seeing no one but her husband.  When she finally does come to visit, she takes Nessya aside and begins to talk to her about her past.

Living in Munkács, Czechoslovakia, Miri Eneman was part of a large, loving family and life was pretty peaceful.  The family thought they were Hungarian and pretty safe from the Nazis, until one night in the spring of 1944 it all changed with a knocking on their door.  The family was being rounded up.  That night, Miri's father escaped out the back window, leaving everyone to think he had run off and deserted his family.  But in reality, that was just the beginning of his fight for their survival.

When she leaves, Grandma Miri gives Nessya a packet of letters written by her family members and tucked into their diaries, all of which her grandmother had spent two weeks translating for her granddaughter and including her own memories of her family during the Holocaust.  The story of her family's survival is her gift to Nessya for her upcoming bat mitzvah.

Miri's story is riveting.  The Eneman family is often on the run after escaping the Munkács Ghetto, in hiding and living in fear, separated from other family members and never knowing what is happening to them.  All the while, Miri's father manages to anticipate what to do and stay one step ahead of Nazi actions, even hiding in plain sight in Budapest.  At one point, they find themselves living in and caring for a grand apartment after the owner flees to Switzerland.  Here, they lived across the street from the virulent anti-Semitic Hungarian pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party's headquarters and under the nose to an equally anti-Semitic concierge.  But can their collective luck whole out until the end of the war?

Escape in Time is a truly apt name for this novel about one Jewish family's survival during the Holocaust.  It is a story of courage, daring, luck and survival doing whatever needs to be done.  Lowenstein-Malz based this story on actual memoirs giving it a real sense of authenticity.  The book is written in such a way that the reader reads Miri's story right along with Nessya, but there are occasional breaks where we see her reaction to what she is reading (don't be surprised if your reactions are similar to hers).

There aren't many good middle grade books about the fate of Hungarian Jews in WWII so this is a welcome additon to the body of Holocaust literature.  For so long, they, like the Eneman family, thought they were safe, but it was just a question of time and politics and it all changed.  It is one of the reasons that I found myself so drawn into Miri's memories, and her family's letters and diary entries.  This is a slightly different Holocaust story in that, interestingly, no one in Grandma Miri's immediate family spends any time in a concentration camp, though extended family were sent there from the ghetto in 1944.  Young readers will not only meet this courageous family, but they will also meet some really good people willing to help the Enemen family as well as some really hateful people who would turn them in in the blink of an eye.

Escape in Time was originally written in Hebrew and I found the translation to be a very smooth one.  Having done some translating myself, I know it is often hard to get together all the elements that make a book great, but that wasn't a problem here.

Throughout this novel, there are realistic sepia-toned portrait illustrations that enhance the narration about the Eneman family.

Miri and her older sister Magda
Escape in Time is a well-written book with well drawn, realistic characters for young readers interested in the Holocaust or historical fiction, and since it is a story of survival against great odds, don't be surprised if you shed a few tears along with Nessya.  I did.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This was an EARC recieved from Net Galley


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19. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle

This free verse novel, written from a first person perspective by three separate and distinct voices, introduces the reader to Daniel, a 13 year old German Jewish refugee who held the hand of his grandfather as he died on Kristalnacht; Paloma, the 12 year old daughter of a corrupt Cuban official who determines, for a high price, who gets a visa to enter Cuba.  Paloma also works at a shelter to help the refugees adjust to their new surroundings; and David, an elderly Russian Jew who fled his country in the 1920s because of pogroms and with whom Daniel is able to communicate in Yiddish.

The novel begins in June 1939 and, as each of these three characters tell their story, the reader also learns that Daniel's parents are musicians who decided to save Daniel because they could only scrape together enough money to pay for one ticket on a ship and send him away from the Nazis.  It was his and their hope that they would be reunited in New York someday.  

Paloma, ashamed of her father's abuse of power and the high price he charges desperate people for a visa, works with the American Quakers in Cuba to help people find shelter and provide them with food and clothing more suitable to a warm climate.

David, who hands out ice cream and food to the refugees with Paloma, befriends Daniel and convinces him to take off the heavy winter coat he brought from home, and metaphorically shedding his old life.  Over time, Daniel, David and Paloma become friends and David helps Daniel begin to move on with his life, though never forgetting his parents.  

In December 1941, when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, paranoia that Germany has sent spies to Cuba increases and the Cuban government orders all non-Jewish Germans to be arrested.  The three friends watch husbands and wives torn from each other because one spouse is Jewish and the other is Christan, and think of the oldest couple in the shelter.  Having crossed Europe together, hiding from Nazis any way they could, Miriam, a Jew, and Marcos, a Christian, are about to be separated in what should have been their place of safety.  Are Paloma, Daniel and David willing to risk everything to help this elderly couple hide from the police?  Does the fear of German spies mean that ships from Germany will now be turned away from Cuba?

Despite being written in free verse, each one of three characters begins to really come to life as they tell their thoughts and secrets and share the different obstacles they must face and overcome, but each is also willing to do what they can to help others in the difficult times and circumstances they find themselves in.    

This is the fourth book I've read about the experience of Jews fleeing Europe and Hitler's cruelty, seeking refuge in Cuba.  This book covers a three year period, from June 1939 to April 1942.  Read carefully, because Engle packs a lot of information about life in Cuba during that time as the characters speak.  There is both corruption and kindness to be found, as well as the anti-Semitic propaganda campaign launched by Germany in Cuba; the eventual turning away of other ships and forcing them to return to Germany and death, and the rounding up of Christians married to Jews and believed to be spies.  Engle includes that and more in her spare, yet graceful poetic style.

There are a lot of excellent stories written about the experience of people during the Holocaust, but not many about the experience of Jews and Cuba.  Books like Tropical Secrets give us another side of what life was like for Jews living under Hitler and their desperate attempts to escape - sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  Ships like Daniels continued to be turned away from the US and Canada, and even though Cuba eventually did the same, it did provide a relatively safe haven for 65,000 refugees.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book to learn more about Cuba in WWII.

Tropical Secrets is a very moving novel about family, friendship, tolerance, love, and survival.

A reading guide can be downloaded HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL



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20. Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee

Hiroki Sugihara, the son of a Japanese diplomat posted to Lithuania in 1940, tells how his father suddenly found himself confronted with a terrible dilemma.

Hundreds of Jewish refugees, driven out of Poland by the Nazis after they had invaded and then occupied that country, began to show up at the gates of the Sugihara home, which doubled as the Japanese embassy.  The Sugihara's, Hiroki, his younger brothers Chiaki and Haruki, his Auntie Setsuko, and his parents lived upstairs, and his father, Chiune Sugihara, worked downstairs.

Men, women and children, dressed in layers of clothing despite the July heat, were seeking visas that would enable them to travel through Russia to find asylum in Japan.  Sugihara knew he had to do something, so he asked the crowd to choose five people to come inside and talk with him.

The next day, Sugihara cabled the Japanese government asking if he might be allowed to issue visas to the desperate refugees.  His country refused his request, leaving Sugihara with a tough moral decision - turn away the people outside his gate and leave them to certain death at the hands of the Nazis or disobey his government.

Sugihara chose to issue visas to each and every person outside his gates, disregarding Japan's order.  Day after day, from early morning to late in the evening, Sugihara hand wrote about 300 visas per day.  Even after the Nazis and Soviets began to close in on Lithuania, visas were written, right up until the family was ordered by Japan to leave when Sugihara was reassigned to Berlin.

In telling his father's story, Hiroki writes in the Afterward that it is a story that he believes "will inspire [readers] to care for all people and to respect life. It is a story that proves that one person can make a difference."  His father remained a diplomat for many years after the war, eventually leaving the Foreign Service.  In the 1960s, Chiune Sugihara began to hear from some of the people to whom he had given visas, and who referred to themselves a Sugihara survivors.  He ultimately received the Righteous Among Nations award from Yad Vashem in Israel.

Dom Lee's sepia-toned illustrations provide close detail and give a feeling of dimension and authenticity to the story being told, seemingly based on old photographs of the July 1940 events.  They are done by an very unusual method.  Lee applied encaustic beeswax to paper, scratched out the image he wanted and then added oil paint and colored pencil.

Passage to Freedom is indeed an inspiring story and one that should be shared with young readers.  Sugihara was a real hero, a man who put human life above politics,  even at a time when Japan was at war with China and relations were already contentious with Great Britain and the United States.  One thing that did amaze me was that his government didn't call him back to Japan to censure him.

An extensive PDF Classroom Guide for Passage to Freedom is available from the publisher, Lee & Low books.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

This 11 minute video recounts the life of Chiune Sugihara at the time he was writing so many visas, it includes Sugihara survivors and his wife's recollections.



Today is Nonfiction Monday:

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21. The Upstairs Room (1972)

The Upstairs Room. Johanna Reiss. 1972.  HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

I am so glad I decided to read Johanna Reiss' The Upstairs Room. This one has been on my list of books I needed to read for quite a while--over a decade at least. It is nonfiction--a biography--set during World War II. The author and her sister were Jews that hid for several years from the Nazis.

Readers meet Annie, the young heroine, and her family. She has several older sisters, a mother and father. The war changes everything for the family. The mother, who was close to death anyway--the Nazis invasion of Holland didn't really change the outcome. The family found hiding places, but, separate hiding places. Annie was placed in a hiding place with one of her sisters. Readers meet the two families that hid the two girls. One family became like a second family to her. I found the book to be a quick read, and quite intense.

The book itself was well-written: both compelling and well-paced. What surprised me a little bit, and what might surprise others as well, is the language. I wasn't expecting (strong) profanity in a Newbery Honor book! I really wasn't. That being said, it wasn't a huge issue for me--as an adult reader. But I could see how it might not work for certain families as a read-aloud choice.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. RWA response to That Book

In my post on Wednesday I wrote I haven't had to explain to her (yet) why our Temple has a perimeter of ugly concrete planters, because if you put flowers in it, maybe we can glide over the fact that our house of worship needs protection against car bombs.

She asked this morning when I was dropping her off at school (her preschool meets at our Temple.) And yes, because we put flowers in them, I could glide over the fact they're there to protect against car bombs. I told her they were planters for flowers, for decoration, to make things pretty. I dodged the question. Maybe I shouldn't have, maybe I should have tried to put a positive spin on them and said they're REALLY COOL because we can put flowers in them AND they protect us. They're pretty AND strong! And put it in a way she could understand, but after this week and the conversations online about this book and all the greater issues it raises and brings up, I'm just tired and sad and hurt. So I told her they were planters for flowers, for decoration, to make things pretty.

And when I got home, I saw that RWA put out an official response. I'm going to quote the entire thing here:

The Board of Directors of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) has received a great deal of heartfelt and moving feedback about some of the finalists in this year's RITA contest. We want the membership to know we have heard your concerns and have spent days discussing them.

The question that we must answer is what RWA as a writers' organization should do when issues arise regarding the content of books entered in the RITA contest. Discussions about content restrictions inevitably lead to concerns about censorship. Censoring entry content is not something the Board supports. If a book is banned from the contest because of its content, there will be a move for more content to be banned. This is true, even especially true, when a book addresses subjects that are difficult, complex, or offensive.

There were 2,000 entries in the RITA contest this year. The RITA is a peer-reviewed award. There is no vetting of content before a book may be entered. Books are entered, not nominated, and those books are judged by fellow romance authors. The Board believes this is how the contest should be run. RWA does not endorse the content of any book entered in the contest. We do believe, however, that education and conversation are important in dealing with the concerns expressed. To that end, we will open an online forum on the RWA website for members to discuss their concerns. This is not a perfect solution, but we believe open dialogue, not the censorship of content, is the right way to handle the issues expressed.

They missed the point entirely.

Because here's the thing: there are already a lot of guidelines and content restrictions surrounding what is eligible to be entered. For instance, the book has to be a romance, and they define what that is. (And let's not forget, the set-up of this book is not a romance. The set-up of this book is a major imbalance in power dynamic [honestly, I can't think of a larger one right now] leading to Stockholm Syndrome disguised as a romance. If they had sexual contact, it would be straight-up rape.)

Guidelines aren't censorship. (And let's be really careful using the word censorship when we're talking about the Holocaust, ok?)

Mostly, this statement utterly fails to address the fundamental problem. RWA does not endorse the content of any book entered in the contest. The problem wasn't that the book was entered. I've been on several award committees--bad stuff gets nominated and entered all the time. That's why there's a process between entry and winner. The board believes in the process, but that process completely failed this time. Because the problem was never that the book was entered. The problem is that it was a FINALIST. Being a finalist is a big deal. "RITA FINALIST" becomes part of an author bio and book marketing. It's a big deal. RWA endorses its finalists. If it didn't, the RITA would become a meaningless award.

But we should all feel great, because RWA is going to have a new forum on its (member-only) website where the echo chamber that created this debacle can talk about it. I'm sure the people who were betrayed and now feel unsafe by this book being a finalist and this non-response will feel super-duper comfortable participating in this forum.

I've gotten a lot of support these past few days. So many people have shared my post and reached out to me. I haven't heard anything from Bethany House, but four members of the RWA board wrote back in a personal capacity, and at least one more shared my post on Twitter. I've dodged a lot of the hate that others have gotten. There was deafening silence from some quarters, but it's the same places that are usually quiet when Jewish issues come up, until they're called out on it. I had hoped they wouldn't ignore something this egregious, but wasn't surprised when they did. But I also found some really strong allies, and greatly expanded my "Jewish twitter" circle.

In response to Wednesday's post, many Jews nodded and said "yep" and many non-Jews went "wait, what? really?" at my experiences. It's one of the reasons I shared, because I think it's often hidden. As Katherine Locke said in her post,
It is not easy to be Jewish in America. Many think it is because of stereotypes, but when push comes to shove, especially online, we turn toward our own and huddle close. It’s a collective memory safety measure.

It's also one of the reasons why I've started Instagramming our Shabbat candles.

I'm Jewish by Choice, which means I converted 4 years ago, after going before the Bet Din, after years of studying and classes, after a decade of soul searching. I made a conscious decision to be Jewish and I love it.

This morning, after I dodged the planter question, before I saw the RWA response, I celebrated Shabbat with my daughter's preschool. We said our blessings and thanked G-d for all we have. We sang joyful songs. It was adorable (because, preschool) and wonderful.

Shabbat Shalom.


Bim bom, bim bim bim bom, bim bim bim bim bim bom.

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23. Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust by Jennifer Roy, illustrated by Meg Owenson

In her book, Jars of Hope, Jennifer Roy takes the reader back to the childhood of Irena Sendler to understand why she would be willing to risk her own life years later to help the Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazis so many people into such a small, unsanitary living space.

As a child, in her hometown of Otwock, Poland, Irena saw how the Jewish people were avoided, but her father taught her that nothing else matters about people except whether they are good or bad.

Irena grew up to become a social worker/nurse and as she watched events unfold in Warsaw after the Nazis took over, she was compelled to do something - but what could one person do, she asked herself.

The answer was to try and bring food and medicine to the people in the ghetto, but more importantly, Irena began to sneak the children out and to find safe homes for them until the Holocaust ended and they could be reunited with their families.  Irena began to organize friends and other trustworthy people in the Polish underground who could help her carry out her frequent trips to get babies and children.  Babies were taken out in carpenter's boxes, trash or coffins after being given a few drops of medicine to make them sleep.  Older children were smuggled out different ways, sometimes through sewer tunnels and other times right under the noses of the Nazi guards.

Teaching the children what they needed to know in order to pass as Catholics, Irena would write down each child's original name, new name and where each was sent.  Then she would put the names into jars and bury the jars under a tree.  Irena and her helpers would continue to make sure each rescued child was cared for, and the families or convents were given food and money in return for the risk they were taking.

In 1943, Irena was arrested, taken to prison and tortured, but never revealed the names of rescued children, where they were hidden or who had helped her.  A few months later, her freedom was bought with a large bribe and Irena continued her work with Zegota, the secret organization formed to help Jews in Poland.

It can't be easy to write a book about the Holocaust for young readers, especially for some who are just beginning to learn about it.  But Jennifer Roy has taken a real hero and used her to remind us that even in the darkest of times there are people who understand what the right thing to do is, who care and are willing to  help others.  Yet, Roy doesn't sugar-coat her story - when Irena tells parents the only guarantee she can give them about their children is that if they remain in the Warsaw Ghetto, they will die, or when people are forced to get into cattle cars, trains that are taking them to concentration camps and their death, young readers will easily grasp the magnitude and gravity of the Holocaust.

While Roy's words tell about those dark times, Meg Owenson's realistic dark, foreboding mixed media illustrations support and extend the text, expressing the wide variety of emotions that must have been felt by everyone at that time.  Be sure to read the Afterword and Author's Note at the back of the book. In addition, there is a glossary, an Index and Source Notes for further exploration.

Jars of Hope is an inspiring picture book for older readers about one very brave woman and reminds us all that one person can make a big difference in the world.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was a ARC received from the publisher, Capstone Press at BEA2015

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24. Bethany House and Kate Breslin Respond to That Book

Yes, I'm still talking about this. It still needs to be talked about. Yesterday, a Jewish community in San Antonio woke up to find their cars and homes had been covered with Anti-Semitic graffiti.

Yesterday, Bethany House responded to the criticism in the most tone-deaf statement ever. I'm going to copy the whole thing here so you don't have to click over:

Bethany House Publishers is saddened by the offense some have taken at the novel For Such a Time by Kate Breslin. We respect and honor the Jewish faith, and this novel, inspired by the redemptive theme of the biblical book of Esther, was intended to draw on our common faith heritage.

Breslin reframes the Esther story in a Nazi transit camp during the Holocaust and portrays a courageous Jewish woman who by God's strength saved fellow Jews from death, and in so doing awakened the conscience of a man thought to be beyond redemption. She wrote this carefully researched story with respect for the Jewish people and their history. It was neither the author nor publisher's wish to offend, but rather to depict how one person can choose to put the lives of others ahead of her own and shine God's light into darkness.

For Such a Time has garnered favorable reviews from readers in many markets. The book was a finalist for several literary awards including two in the Romance Writers of America RITA® awards for "best first book" and "inspirational romance" categories.

Bethany House Publishers supports Kate Breslin and her writing. We have heard from many readers who are moved by this portrayal of courage, and we hope it continues to provide inspiration to others in the spirit of the author's intent.

Jim Parrish
Executive VP and Director
Bethany House Publishers
Division of Baker Publishing Group

They are saddened that people fighting for the right to safely worship recognized their book as part of the problem. They're not sorry about anything. They're just really sad. Our hurt and anger hurt their feelings. Our feelings don't matter, just theirs.

Because, they respect and honor the Jewish faith! (Just not actual Jewish people). Breslin did not write this book with respect for the Jewish people and their history. You do not respect a history by changing it. You do not respect a history by repeating the lie that blond hair and blue eyes would save you from the Holocaust. You do not respect the Jewish people when you have your character convert to Christianity. You do not respect the Jewish people when you use them and their history as props and plot points for your religious message. Because that's what Breslin respected with her book, her own religious world view. Not that of the Jewish faith.

I get that the author and publisher didn't mean to offend, BUT THEY DID. And they need to address that.

And hey, remember RWA's non-response?
The problem with it being a Finalist that they just didn't address? Bethany House is using that as a shield. (RWA likes us, why don't the Jews?) Who could have seen that one coming? (Oh wait, everyone. Everyone saw that coming.)

For an article in Newsweek (don't read that article. It's bad.) Breslin provided a statement:
I have previously stated in posts and interviews on social media that my inspiration for For Such A Time was borne from a compassion for the Jewish people, as in reading from the Book of Esther I realized how they have suffered at the hands of one society or another throughout history. It was my intent to write a book that told a more modern-day story of a courageous Jewish woman who, through strength and faith in her God, used her situation to try to save some of her beloved people—much in the way Esther saved hers. And like that Biblical queen’s influence with King Xerxes, through her brave and sacrificial actions, she helped to bring one man to a sense of conscience, prompting him to join in the attempt to save her people. I am heartsick and so very sorry that my book has caused any offense to the Jewish people, for whom I have the greatest love and respect.

She doesn't get it. She really doesn't get it, but you know what? She says she's sorry her words caused offense. She has great love and respect for the Jewish people. And compassion. Which is why she thinks "Jewess" is a good word to use. It's why she thinks images of Auschwitz with a Mother Theresa quotation are a great way to market her book about Theresienstadt .



She also co-opts Purim for her marketing, because COMPASSION AND LOVE AND RESPECT



(if she ever takes those tweets down, screen grabs here)

But then again, she thought Holocaust Remembrance Day was a GREAT time to promote her book that redeems Nazis.

Feel the respect and love? I don't. I feel used and co-opted for her message. There is no respect here.

(But according to Anne Rice, I'm not allowed to voice my concerns about this, because that's the same as murdering someone for fun and spectacle.)

The take away from all this? When it comes to the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, the Jews need to sit down and be quiet. The Christians are talking now.

So yes, I am still talking about this, and I will keep talking about this as long as I have to.

(But hey, I also have some positive response news to share. I didn't want to lump it in with these garbage responses, so I'm saving it for tomorrow. Stay tuned!)

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25. Talking to RT and Library Journal about That Book

I was going to post this a few days ago, but didn't have time and then Bethany House came out with their gross statement and I decided to save this post for today, so we can end the week on a high note!

When I contacted Bethany House and RWA, I did not contact RT* or Library Journal, even though the book was very favorably reviewed in both places (it was a Top Pick for RT and it got a coveted star from LJ). Not because I didn't want to, but unlike Bethany House and RWA, I have bridges to burn at RT and LJ. (So, full disclosure, I review both for RT and for LJ's sister publication, School Library Journal.) I reached out to people I know and trust at both organizations to seek advice on how best to handle the situation (Should I email the editor-in-chief? The reviews editor? My editor and have her pass it on? etc.)

I got a lot of support and advice, and sat down to craft my emails.  Within an hour of contacting Library Journal I had a response that the person I contacted takes the matter seriously, but key people to the conversation are out of the office, so they need to wait. Totally valid and I look forward to seeing what happens.

While I was still crafting my email to RT, my former editor forwarded me an email that had been sent out to their reviewers who cover Inspirational Romance. It is not an official response from RT, but does show they take the issue seriously and is an example of what you SHOULD do in this situation. With permission, I'm posting it here:

Hi inspirational reviewers,

I wanted to reach out to you because of a 2014 inspirational romance that's been getting a lot of attention. You might've heard, but For Such a Time by Kate Breslin was nominated for two RITA awards and received rave reviews from Library Journal — and from us.

For Such a Time's critical acclaim has been a source of great pain for many in the romance community. For those of you who don't know, the central plot involves a blonde, blue-eyed Jewish woman who falls in love with a Nazi commandant who is in charge of a concentration camp. The heroine's appearance allows her to conceal her ancestry and grow close to the SS officer.

This is problematic on many levels. That the heroine's non-"Jewish" appearance saves her is deeply troubling: it essentially — and somewhat insidiously — valorizes not looking "Jewish" without examining the anti-Semitism inherent in that assessment.

But the most painful: For Such a Time casts a Nazi officer — who's presumably overseen the systematic murder of a number of Jews — as a romantic hero. Even viewing this in the most generous light, granting such a character redemption and a happily-ever-after is — at best — hugely insensitive. This book is set against the monstrous historical backdrop of so many lives being brutally extinguished. We're talking about a time when Jews were fleeing their homes in terror, families were separated, children were murdered and buried in mass graves. Let that sink in for a second.

One of the most moving and wrenching moments of my life was when I went to the Josefov, the historically Jewish district in Prague. In the Pinkasova synagogue, there's an exhibit dedicated to children's drawings from Terezin. Terezin was a camp in the Czech Republic where Jews were held before being sent to their deaths at Auschwitz and Treblinka. The children there, mostly orphans, were given art lessons — they drew their homes, they drew what they imagined Israel to be like, they drew what they saw in their dreams. As you might expect, none of those children ever made it home.

When an author chooses to set a story during World War II, right in the thick of one of the most soul-crushing examples of genocide in human history, she takes on a huge responsibility. As does the publisher who sells and distributes her book. As do the people who read and review it. The reason I'm addressing this with you all is that I believe there is a certain lacuna in the publishing industry, particularly in the inspirational/Christian market. I don't say this pejoratively, but merely as a statement of fact: the Christian fiction market is narrow and insular. Because it is written almost exclusively by and for Christians, it's born out of an inherently limited perspective — one that isn't as finely attuned to the struggles of non-Christians as it could or should be.

It raises the question: What can we, as staff of this magazine, do? What can we offer? Empathy. Sensitivity. A conscious effort to broaden our own perspectives.

We gave For Such a Time a Top Pick review, which can't be undone. I'm not here to censor or wrist-slap your ratings and reviews. But I am asking you to strive for a greater awareness when you read and review, especially where it concerns Christian handling of non-Christian religions, history and identity.

To that end, when you have time, here are two posts about For Such a Time and RWA's decision to honor it, from Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches and from our own reviewer, Jennifer Rothschild, both of whom are Jewish:

http://sarahwendell.tumblr.com/post/125859299894/letter-to-the-rwa-board-regarding-for-such-a-time
http://www.jenrothschild.com/2015/08/an-open-letter-to-bethany-house-and-rwa.html

It would mean a lot to me if you would read both.

Thanks for your time.

See everyone? That's how you do it! You look at the issue head on and confront it. You don't dismiss the people hurt, you listen to them, and you take steps to do better next time.

Easier said than done, but it makes such a difference.

Such a difference.

It's amazing how a little bit of real compassion and respect can do.

*For those following this story who aren't part of Romancelandia, RT is a big romance magazine (it used to be called Romantic Times) We're not talking about Russian State Media.


Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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