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In spring 1944, Hungary was occupied by German soldiers and in the city of Debrecen, a ghetto was formed at the end of April. Thinking her family was lucky because their apartment fell within the walls of the ghetto, Hanna Mendel continued to believe she would be able to attend Budapest Conservatorium of Music, where she had just been selected for a hard won place as a piano student.
But in the middle of a night in June 1944, a knock on the door by officers informed them that the Mendel family, parents, high-spirited, defiant older sister Erika and Hanna, 15, was ordered to assemble outside the synagogue at 8 the next morning. Before leaving, Hanna rips the C-sharp from her beloved piano and takes it with her. The next morning the Mendels, along with all of Debrecen's Jews, begin their long trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.
Once they arrive at Auschwitz, the family is split up, but luckily Hanna, Erika and their mother are able to stay together in the same barrack, even sharing a bunk. Put to work in the quarry, one day Hanna sees her music teacher playing piano with an ensemble made of up inmates and called the Birkenau Women's Orchestra. Piri thinks that maybe she can get Hanna a place in it.
When that doesn't work out, Hanna is sent to audition with five other inmates for the camp's cruel commandant. Believing she doesn't stand a chance at being chosen, the commandant leave the choice to his totally disinterested son, Karl Jager, who points to Hanna.
Day after day, Hanna trudges to the commandant's house to await the order to play for him and any guests he may have. The only perks to playing for the commandant is a warm shower everyday (the commandant detests dirt), shoes, a warm coat and a warm house while she's there. The only extra food is leftovers she must steal and risk getting caught and shot.
Gradually, however, she discovers that Karl Jager harbors his own dangerous secrets and is not as disinterested or as indifferent as she originally thought. When he treats her kindly, Hanna finds herself more and more attracted to him. But returning to the barrack at the end of each day, she sees that her mother and Erika are cold, starving and barely surviving. To make matters worse, her mother, who had started going mad during the roundup in Debrecen, is having more and more trouble surviving the selections each time they are done.
Their one hope is that the Red Army is really moving east as rumored around the camp and that they arrive in time.
Playing for the Commandant
is certainly a very readable book. I read it in one day. It is told in the first person by Hanna, a very observant 15 year old and on many levels her voice rings true. Her descriptions of the camp, of the cruelty inflicted on innocent people are spot on. When she talks about the lice, the smells, the moldy bread or about how skeleton thin her sister and the other women are becoming, you can clearly see and smell what she is describing.
Despite everything, Hanna'a father had told her to survive at any cost to tell the world what happened to the Jews of Europe and so, she is determined to do what her father wanted.
But when she talks about the danger of stealing scraps of leftover food, or of living under the pressure of always having to please the commandant, Hanna's fate feels just as capricious or dangerous as her fellow inmates. For example, when the gardener, a Jew, steps on the grave of the commandant's dog, he is shot in the head for it. But, when a girl at the commandant's house drops a tray with tea and cakes on it, I thought for sure that when she is removed from the house, she is also killed, but she shows up later, and I have to admit, I was surprised to see her again in the novel.
But, Hanna's growing romance with Karl is very most disturbing and a real flaw in the novel. I guess I thought Hanna should be thinking more about food than a boy. She didn't get that much more to eat than her sister, and what she got, she shared with Erika. Also, at one point, Hanna gets angry at the people, ordinary farmers, who watch her walk to and from the commandant's house every day and do nothing. I got mad at Karl for being against what the Nazis were doing to the Jews, but who passively sits by and watches it all happen. I would be curious to know how others feel about this part of an otherwise good novel.
Yet, despite this criticism, in the end, I thought that Playing for the Commandant
is definitely worth reading for its message of survival and hope, but not for its gratuitous romance.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This was an EARC received from NetGalley
Though Playing for the Commandant
is a complete work of fiction, Jews actually were often used to play music for the Nazis. Here is the obituary of Natalie Karp
, a famous pianist who played for Amon Goeth's birthday on December 9, 1943. She and her sister allowed to live because of the beautiful piano playing that night. Goeth was the cruel commandant of the Kraków-Plaszów Concentrtion Camp in Poland (you may recall Goeth from Schindler's List
It is Fall 1942 and the Nazis have been occupying Holland since Spring 1940. Beatrix, 6, and her mother are Jews who have been running and hiding from the Nazis for that long. But now it is time to hid Beatrix in a safer more stable place.
Sitting on the tram, on their way to meet the woman who would take Beatrix to safety, her mother is suddenly taken away by the Nazis who regularly board and search the trams looking for Jews. Beatrix is left sitting on the tram by herself.
Brothers Lars, 63, and Hans Gorter, 65, both life-long bachelors, work together on a tram - Hans driving it while Lars collects tickets. When it looked like the Nazis were also going to take Beatrix away, Lars suddenly told them that she was his niece. The war and all the rumors they had heard about Nazi treatment of Jews suddenly became real for the brothers.
Now, these kind, well-meaning though naive brothers must learn how to care for a little girl, who has been traumatized by the loss of her mother and who must become someone different than who she really is - if only for the duration of the Nazi occupation. Luckily, Hans and Lars have help from their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos, 80, and from a new, younger neighbor, Lieve van der Meer, 30, who husband is rumored to have escaped Holland and is flying for the RAF.
Why would two older men who have made it a point to always live quietly and keep a low profile, suddenly risk everything, including their lives, for a little girl they know nothing about? That is the question at the heart of The End of the Line
and Canadian author Sharon McKay answers it eloquently as the story of Beatrix and her new uncles unfolds.
There are lots of books about Jewish children who were rescued by people during the Holocaust and who did what they did simply because they believed it was the right thing to do. But these stories are generally written from the point of view of the child. What makes The End of the Line
stand out is that it is written from the point of view of the two brothers. and yet it is a thoroughly appealing, totally engaging book for young readers accustomed to reading about protagonists their own age.
Living under Nazi occupation meant living under a daily shroud of fear and anxiety, never knowing if you were going to be singled out at any given moment. There are plenty of these moments portrayed in the story of Hans, Lars and Beatrix, like the time Beatrix whispers Geb Achting
, Yiddish for be careful, to a young Nazi soldier. However, the story offers more insight into what it was like for the brothers in order to survive the war and the occupation of Holland, from dressing Beatrix as she grows, managing to find food when there is almost none to be had, even to buying her a doll to cuddle and comfort herself with may be new experiences for Hans and Lars, but keeping her safe from the Nazis turns out to be instinctual for these kind brothers.
The End of the Line
is an interesting supplement to Holocaust literature written for young readers by an author who is part of the Canadian War Artist Program and has already written books about child soldiers in Uganda, young girls caught in the war in Afghanistan and short stories dealing with the Holocaust with Kathy Kacer, another Canadian artist who also writes books for young readers about the Holocaust. This should be a welcome addition to any library.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received as an E-ARC from NetGalley
You can find more information and a very useful lesson plan for The End of the Line
from the publisher HERE
The Auschwitz Escape. Joel C. Rosenberg. 2014. Tyndale. 468 pages. [Source: Library]
The Auschwitz Escape is a compelling historical novel starring two wonderful heroes. Readers meet Jean Luc Leclerc a pastor who follows his heart and sets out to rescue as many Jews as he can. He "rescues" them by providing for the needs of refugees. He takes Jews into his home and hides them, he encourages every one in his town to do so. His rescue work continues for several years before he is arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz. Readers also meet a young Jewish man named Jacob Weisz. He is part of the Resistance, Belgium Resistance, I believe? He is doing his all to help as well. He too is captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. However they don't learn his true name for many months. Both men learn the upsetting fate of most Jews upon arrival. Both realize that it is not a work camp, but, instead a death camp. Both men are chosen by others in the camp to be part of an underground resistance. Both are chosen to be part of an escape program. They feel very strongly that several teams of two-men need to escape from the camp and seek not only immediate refuge, but, to be messengers. They feel that if the outside world had even a small clue what was happening, they would act, they would do something, they couldn't not do something, right? So Luc and Jacob are the third or maybe fourth team over a year to attempt to escape. Will their escape succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to find help? What will happen when they speak the truth?
The Auschwitz Escape is fiction. But there were men who did manage to escape who did carry messages and horrific proof about the camp with them to share with the outside world.
I would definitely recommend this one.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
By: Sinead O’Connor,
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By Arlene Stein
If talk of the Holocaust was in the air when I was growing up in the 1970s I was barely aware of it, even in New York City which was home to a large Jewish population, many of whom were Holocaust survivors. We did not learn about the Holocaust in school, even in lessons about World War II, or about the waves of immigration to America’s shores. There was barely a category of experience called “the Holocaust.” The genocide of European Jewry was generally subsumed under talk of “the war.” A patchwork memorial culture was forming, but it was modest, somber, locally-based, and generally not seen as relevant to non-Jewish Americans. In encounters with family and neighbors in the early postwar years, survivors often felt misunderstood, unrecognized, and even shamed.
Today, in contrast, the genocide of European Jewry is a frequent subject of Hollywood films and part of US high school curricula. Our losses are much less private; now they have a name and a hulking museum in our nation’s capital. Few in the West would deny that remembering the Holocaust is one of our responsibilities as human citizens.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Bridges by Cumulus Clouds. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A number of historians have shown how American Jewish organizations gradually came to recognize the Holocaust and call for its public commemoration. But what of the efforts of survivors and their children? Paradoxically, they have been left out of such histories.
Interviews with survivors and descendants, and my own experiences, suggest that children of survivors were instrumental in bringing Holocaust stories into the public sphere. For decades after the war, few survivors talked openly about what they had endured, fearing that others did not want to hear, and trying to protect their children. That changed in the 1970s, when their children moved into adulthood. Influenced by feminism, the ethnic revival, and therapeutic culture, they began to probe their parents’ pasts, bringing their private stories of trauma into public view. In families where so many ghosts shared the dinner table, this was exceedingly difficult to do. Building a Holocaust memorial culture entailed a great deal of work: emotional, material, and political.
But even today, in the midst of a robust memorial culture, the Holocaust remains forbidden territory. We distance ourselves from it, bathing it in Hollywood homilies to the power of human kindness. We draw boundaries around it, housing it in concrete structures, hoping to contain it. A sense of fatigue seems to be setting in: many Jewish Americans yearn to be an ethnic and religious group defined by foods and ritual customs, rather than by pain and suffering.
A number of years ago, I sat in Carnegie Hall listening to the Klezmatics meld the music of the shtetl with contemporary folk. They had performed a song in Yiddish that spoke of the genocide in a small Polish town. As one of the performers translated the lyrics for the audience, a man sitting in front of me turned to his wife and said facetiously, “Oh that’s very uplifting.” It jarred his sense of what is suitable to perform in public, and what constituted entertainment.
More and more, one hears ambivalence about the fact that the genocide has emerged as a core element of Jewish identity. Like other Americans, Jews wish to move on from traumatic pasts. As sociologist Nancy Berns writes: “Closure offers order and predictability instead of ambiguity and uncertainty.” It allows us to “get on with our lives” and resume expectations of productivity and forward trajectories.
The permanent association of Jewish identity with victimization is highly problematic, to be sure. Jews, particularly in the United States, are no longer collectively powerless, even if they consistently perceive anti-Semitism to be more endemic to American society than public opinion polls say it is.
For much of the world the continued strife in the Middle East and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories captured in 1967 diminishes Jewish claims to moral authority and sympathy on the basis of past suffering. So do specious Holocaust analogies, such the recent claim by private equity titan Stephen A. Schwartzman that asking financiers to pay taxes at the same rate as those who work for a living is comparable to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
Still, those who say that the past is behind us and that we need to move on fail to appreciate what a hard-won accomplishment Holocaust consciousness was, how much resistance those who tried to speak openly about the genocide often encountered during the first decades after World War II, and how important it has been for survivors and their children to finally be able to share their stories. In this light, the call for Jews to stop talking so much about their tragic past may be awfully premature.
Arlene Stein is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers and the author of Reluctant Witnesses: Survivors, Their Children, and the Rise of Holocaust Consciousness. Her writing has appeared in The Nation, The Forward, and Jacobin, among other publications.
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The post Holocaust fatigue and the will to remember appeared first on OUPblog.
In the Summer of 1941, the manager of the large animal reserve in the Ukraine, Askaniya-Nova, told his senior caretaker Maxim Borisovich Melnik to kill all the animals before the Germans arrived and did it themselves to replenish their dwindling food supplies.
But Max can't bring himself to do it, and when the Nazis arrive and take over the reserve, he is sure that the Well-educated, well-bred, well-spoken Captain Grenzman will spare the animals, especially his beloved untamable Przewalski's horses. But soon it is winter and the soldiers have to eat and little by little, the animals on the reserve are killed until only the small herd of Przewalski's horses are left.
Until the day Grenzman tells Max that he has received his orders from Berlin to "remove from the animal population of the Greater German Reich what is, after all, a biologically unfit species, in order to protect the line of decent domesticated horses…from possible contamination by your wandering pit ponies." (pg 25) Besides, the Nazis have run out of food again.
Meanwhile, Kalinka, 15, the only Jewish survivor of a Nazi mass shooting that included her entire family, has found her way to Askaniya-Nova, where she befriends and is befriended by the lead stallion and mare of the Przewalski's herd there, a most unusual thing for these horses to do.
Like Max, Kalinka witnesses and is horrified by the killing of the herd of Przewalski's horses and when it was over, she goes looking for the mare and stallion who had helped save her life to see if there is anything she can do for them. Not finding them, Kalinka returns to her hiding place, only to discover that the two horses have made their way back there, too. But the mare has a bullet lodged in her shoulder and Kalinka knows she needs to seek help from Max.
Max is overjoyed to see the two Przewalski's and welcomes Kalinka with open arms. He removes the bullet and puts the two horses and Kalinka in the abandoned waterworks buildings not far from his cottage. But soon, that becomes a dangerous place for them, as well, and the two hatch a plan to get both the horses and Kalinka to where they can find safety with the Red Army.
It's a dangerous plan, but if it doesn't work, it will be the end of the Przewalski's horses.
The Winter Horses
is based somewhat on the real shooting of Przewalski's horses by the Nazis during WWII, but the rest of the story should not be seen as a history but as a legend, which contains only an element of historic fact, but also has a rather mythical quality. Or at least, that is how Philip Kerr introduces this story of an unlikely hero, heroine and the two horses they want to save, and which accounts for the very understated element of fantasy in the novel.
I though that because of this legend quality Kerr gave his story, that writing the novel with an omniscient third person point of view really worked well. It provided just the kind of distancing that a novel like this needs. In fact, it reminded me of the original Kinder- und Hausmärchen
by the Brothers Grimm, which all had that same dichotomy of cruelty and kindness to them (unlike their prettified, disneyfied fairy tales counterparts of today) found in The Winter Horses
Even so, I suspect that this is may be as difficult a story to read for others as it was for me. The calm cruelty of Captain Grenzman and his obsessive need to eradicate the all horses was almost unbearable, mainly because it was so analogous to what was being done to the entire Jewish population.
Still, I highly recommend The Winter Horses
to anyone with an interest in WWII, and given what is going on in the Ukraine at the moment, readers may find this even more of an interesting read, asking themselves, as I did, will history be repeating itself here? After all, the Askaniya-Nova reserve still exists in the southern Ukraine.
Philip Kerr is a favorite author of mine, having written a wonderful mystery series about a detective named Bernie Gunther set in pre-war Berlin for adult readers. The Winter Horses
is his first historical fiction for young readers (but not his first work for kids - as Ms. Yingling
points out in her review, Philip Kerr also wrote a fantasy series, Children of the Lamp
, under the name P.B.Kerr).
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Random House has an educator's guide to The Winter Horses complete with CCSS tie-ins that can be downloaded HERE
If you would like to know more about Przewalski's horses, you might this article in Scientific American
interesting, or this entry on Wikipedia giving the history of Przewalski's horses
or the history of Askaniya-Nova
Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 true stories of survival
by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis; translated by Laura Watkinson
An Arthur A. Levine Book; Scholastic. 2014
Grades 7 thru 12
To review this book, I checked a copy out from my local public library
Anne Frank recorded in her diary the two
years the Frank family spent in hiding during World War II. Though Anne’s story
By: Becky Laney
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Hidden Like Anne Frank. Marcel Prins. Peter Henk Steenhuis. Translated by Laura Watkinson. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
If I had to pick just a few words to describe this Holocaust collection, I would choose the words honest and haunting. Hidden Like Anne Frank is a collection of fourteen true stories of survival. All of these stories are set in the Netherlands during World War II. All focus on children (or teenagers) who hid from the Nazis. Anne Frank is perhaps the most famous hidden child from the war, but unlike Anne Frank, these are the survivor stories, the so-called happy-ending holocaust stories. Before I read the book, I would have considered the fact that they survived through the war enough to make it a happy ending. What I learned was that was not always the case.
What followed was years of tears. A whole lifetime. That war will not be over until I take my last breath. (211, Donald de Marcas)
The fourteen: Rita Degen, Jaap Sitters, Bloeme Emden, Jack Eljon, Rosemary Kahn, Lies Elion, Maurice Meijer, Sieny Kattenburg, Leni de Vries, Benjamin Kosses, Michael Goldsteen, Lowina de Levie, Johan Sanders, and Donald de Marcas.
I liked the fact that these were individual stories. Each writer, each survivor, has their own voice, their own story, their own message. No two stories really read alike. This is as it should be. Readers catch glimpses of what life was like before, during, and after the war.
I found Hidden Like Anne Frank was a book I had to read very slowly. To read more than two or three stories at a time proved too much. This one is not a light read. It is compelling and honest and important. But it is not easy.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany. Steven Pressman. 2014. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany is a must-read. It is incredibly compelling and, in my opinion, unforgettable. It tells the true story of an American Jewish couple, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, and how they diligently worked to save 50 Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939. Why 50? Well. They faced obstacles. You might think the biggest obstacles they faced were in Nazi Germany, working with the Nazi regime/government. And no doubt the obstacles they faced when they actually traveled there themselves to do the paperwork and bring over the children were many. But. What might surprise you is how BIG the obstacles were in the United States that they faced. The truth: the United States knew about the ever-increasing risks and dangers facing Jews, they knew that it was a matter of life-and-death, but they did not care. They simply did not care. They did not want Jewish immigrants. Plain and simple. There were laws in place, and those laws were kept strictly, limiting the number of immigrants, of Jewish immigrants. And loopholes had to be found, in a way, to get even those fifty into the United States. Want to know another sad truth? The couple faced opposition from Jewish Americans, from Jewish organizations in America! The book tells how some Jews worried that by bringing MORE Jews into the country, it would increase prejudice and hatred towards them.
The book tells the remarkable story of the men and women involved in this rescue mission. It tells of their determination and stubbornness, their perseverance, how they would not stop until it was accomplished, how they would not quit and say well, we tried, but, there's nothing more we can do
. No, they could not turn away from what they knew to be right and good. It's an inspiring, courageous story.
I definitely recommend this one!
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod. Avrom Bendavid-Val. 2010. Pegasus. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
The Heavens Are Empty is a compelling nonfiction read. Avrom Bendavid-Val has approached the subject matter with care and attention. This book is about a town--a village--that existed for a little over hundred years, the Jewish town of Trochenbrod.
Trochenbrod did not vanish slowly but surely over decades, it's death was not natural at all. After sharing his personal story, his behind-the-scenes look at his research process, his motivation for wanting--needing--to know more, he presents his findings in four chapters. The first chapter focuses on "the first hundred years." This is a look, a glimpse, at what life was like in Trochenbrod in the nineteenth century and a little beyond. If this book has a "happy" section, this would be it. The second chapter focuses on the decades between the first world war and the start of the second world war. Again, there are no great indicators of what is to come. The third chapter covers the years 1939-1942, readers see Trochenbrod under Soviet rule and under German rule. The fourth chapter is perhaps the most haunting, the most horrific. The fourth chapter focuses on how an entire village was massacred by the Nazis. This chapter includes three incredible accounts of survivor-witnesses.
The Heavens Are Empty is rich in witness accounts. It's a difficult subject to read about, but important in my opinion.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
So the Rialto, CA, school district has decided that maybe it’s NOT a good idea to have eighth-graders debate the existence of the Holocaust. I’m of two minds (Opposing Viewpoints: In My Head). While I see the chance for much mischief in such an assignment and believe middle school is too early for the kind of fact- and viewpoint-evaluation the topic requires, I also think this is a great focus for teaching high school students how to navigate truth, history, and propaganda. It could provide what the Common Core–at its best–asks students to do: “to use cogent reasoning and evidence collection skills that are essential for success in college, career, and life.”
Just so we’re clear: I’m not asking schools to “teach the controversy,” allowing students to decide for themselves in an all-viewpoints-are-respected-here kind of way about the historical reality of the Nazi genocide. What this lesson should instead teach them is how to distinguish facts from the ravings of racist whackjobs. The Anti-Defamation League’s L.A. office called the assignment dangerous, citing “the large volume of misinformation” on the internet, but doesn’t that volume also mean that people need to learn how to recognize pernicious claptrap when it’s presented to them?
The post P.S. Evolution is real appeared first on The Horn Book.
It's 1943 and Denmark has been occupied by the Nazis since 1940. One morning, when young Anett comes downstairs, her mother tells her that there are 'new friends' in the basement. Anett isn't the least bit surprised to hear this and simply goes downstairs to the secret room to bring breakfast to young Carl and his mother, Danish Jews waiting for a fishing boat that will take them to the safety of Sweden.
The nights are foggy and cloudy, and the new friends can't leave right away. Each day, Anett stops to pick up things they need - extra bread from the bakery, extra eggs from the farmer, extra books from the library for Carl to read. And at each stop, Anett whispers to the baker, the farmer, the librarian that there are new friends who need these extras.
But each day, on her way home, Anett sees the Nazi soldiers knocking on doors, looking for hidden Jews and with orders to arrest everyone in the house if any are found. Then one day, Anett sees the Nazi soldiers heading for her house. She hurries around to the back door, but when she enters, the house is empty.
When the Nazi soldiers knock, Anett tells them there are no Jews in the house, and though they go away, the solders do so with threats. Later, it becomes clear to her parents that they can't wait any longer. But how to get Carl and his mother to the harbor in a dark, cloudy, foggy night?
Well, young Anett has a solution. That night, as Carl and his mother leave the hidden room in the basement, all over the village there are whispers of "This way."
Jennifer Elvgren's simple depiction of this dangerous, yet heroic rescue makes this story all the more poignant. There is no sentimentality, but this gentle story shows ordinary people just doing what needs to be done to keep other people safe from Nazi hands. But it will no doubt elicit questions from curious young readers and is probably best read with an adult who can answer them age appropriately.
Fabio Santomauro used sparse, dark cartoonish illustrations that seem to work very well with the simplicity of the text and he has chosen a palette of the dark foreboding black, blues and grays broken up with bits of reds, yellows and khaki dialogue against an almost white background. The dialogue is done in word bubbles. This style may attract young readers and make them feel comfortable, but there is nothing cartoonish or funny about the story.
By now, most of us are familiar with the story of how Danish Jews were smuggled out of Denmark by Danes who refused to support and collaborate with their Nazi occupiers. In fact, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
, the Danes were the "only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens."
So it is no surprise that the best resistance, rescue and escape stories set in Denmark always come from real life. In her Author's Note, Elvgren writes that The Whispering Town
is based on one of the true stories from the fishing village of Gilleieje. And if Gilleieje sounds familiar to you, you may remember it from Number the Stars
by Lois Lowery. Elvgren writes, 1,700 Jews escaped from this small fishing village. In fact, Danes managed to evacuate 7,220 out of 7800 Danish Jews, 668 of their non-Jewish spouses.
|Gilleieje is the uppermost town in Denmark|
If you are looking for a way to introduce young readers to the Holocaust, The Whispering Town
will definitely help you do that.
This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was purchased for my personal library
When Elsa, 6, discovers her grandmother, Dounia Cohen, crying one night, the little girl convinces her to talk about what's causing her tears. And so, her grandma begins telling her about her own life when she was Elsa's age living in Paris.
Her best friend was Catherine and they both had a crush on Isaac, and all three went to the same school. One day, when Dounia came home from school, her father was already there. He told Dounia there were to become a family of sheriffs and soon a yellow star was sewn onto her clothes. The next day, Isaac didn't show up for school and Dounia was told to sit in the back of the room, and learned that her star was meant to mark her as Jewish, not a sheriff.
When the police show up at the door one night, Dounia's parents put her into a hiding place and tell her to quietly wait for someone to come and get her. When her neighbor comes, Dounia learns that her parents had been taken away, and the apartment ransacked.
The neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Péricard, take care of Dounia in secret as long as they can, but eventually they learn that the police are planning a surprise visit to find her. Dounia's name is changed to Simone Pierret, but before they can get away, someone spots Dounia. She and Mrs. Péricard make it to the prearranged point for Dounia to be picked up and moved, but now Mrs. Péricard is also in danger and has no idea what happened to her husband. The two are taken to the farm of an older woman named Germaine by Resistance workers. Dounia had been told she must think of the Péricards as her parents, and now as Simone, she also becomes a young Catholic girl in order to keep her safe and hidden from the Nazis.
Dounia and Mrs. Péricard remain on the farm for the rest of the war, each wondering what became of their loved ones.
is the powerful story of a young girl who doesn't completely understand what is happening around her, why people suddenly dislike her and all other Jews so much and, most importantly, the sudden disappearance of so many people including her parents, How does one deal with this? Clearly, it took Dounia years to do that, since even her own son didn't know about his mother's experiences in Nazi occupation of France.
How does a young reader who is hearing about the Holocaust for possibly the first time deal with such a disturbing subject? Clearly, a book about the Holocaust for kids, whether it is a graphic or traditional picture book, requires a very fine balance between story, information, and illustrations so that the story gives just the right amount of age appropriate information, but not so much that you frighten kids. Hidden
is a book that is so powerful in its simplicity, to honest in it telling that it definitely achieves this fine balance.
The translation by Alexis Siegel from the original French into English contains no ambiguities, and the dialogue flows comfortably and naturally. I seem to be reading graphic novels about World War II and the Holocaust more and more lately, and they seem to be getting better and better. The illustrations by Marc Lizano are reminiscent of a child's drawing, though the background is more sophisticated. Still, the faces, even in their simplicity, really manage to convey a wide range of emotions - fear, sadness, anger, kindness, hate, love and ultimately even hope. And the colorist, Greg Salsedo, really gives the illustrations a sense of the time, place and mood using his color palette.
Dounia's story is similar to that of many children in France. In fact, in the Afterword, Hellen Kaufmann, president of the AJPN (Association Anonymes, Justes et Persecutés pendant la période nazie
) writes that 84% of Jewish children living in France before the war survived because of people like Mrs. Péricard and Germaine and the Resistance workers who found safe homes for them were willing to risk their own lives to hide and protect these children from the Nazis and the collaborating French police.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library
The Jewish holiday, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins on Monday night, April 28. In honor of the millions who perished, as well as those who survived, I wanted to share with my readers an interview with
author Maryann Macdonald
of Odette's Secrets
(reviewed here at the Fourth Musketeer last month
). This novel tells the story of a young French girl who was hidden during the Nazi occupation, and thus survived the Holocaust. Thanks so much, Maryann, for visiting my blog today.
Q: There are so many books, even for young readers, that deal with World War II, particularly the European side of the conflict. Yet there are still so many stories to tell, with more books coming out every year. Please tell us how you discovered the true story of Odette, and why you considered it important to tell her story to young readers.
A: When I learned that 86% of French Jewish children survived the Holocaust by going into hiding, I was astonished. How had these children managed to reinvent themselves so successfully, I wondered? And how had it affected them? Then, by chance, I found "Doors to Madame Marie," a memoir by Odette Meyers at the American Library in Paris. I was so touched by Odette's story of her experience as a hidden child in France. I especially loved her description of the struggles she went through with all the necessary deception that was required to stay successfully hidden, and the affect this had on her developing identity. I had never seen a book that told this particular story about WWII, and I wanted to create a children's book about it for today's readers. Although Odette had passed away some years earlier, I learned that her son Daniel was alive and living in Paris. I called him and we met. He told me he that his mother had often told her story in schools, churches and synagogues, and he was sure that she would want it to live on. So I began the process of trying to recreate Odette's story for today's young readers.
|Right above the door is Odette's Paris apartment|
|Odette and Mama (photographer and family later deported)|
Q: Why did you decide to tell this particular story in free verse, rather than a more conventional prose style?
A: My first draft of Odette's Secrets was in third person. I wanted the story to be as accurate as possible, but I felt this version was too dry. Then I remembered that Odette loved poetry, and even thought its beauty helped her to survive her ordeal. She grew up to become a professor of literature, and wrote poetry of her own. So I set about telling Odette's story in first person, in blank verse, to access more accurately Odette's childhood voice. I wanted the book to seem as though Odette herself was telling her story to children. This turned the book into fiction, but nearly every single recorded detail is true.
|Odette's godmother, Madame Marie|
Q: Many of your many prior books for young people are picture books rather than novels. Did you ever consider telling Odette's story in a picture book format?
A: I have written many picture books, but also one other middle grade novel and quite a few chapter books. My latest effort is a young adult novel. At first I thought Odette's Secrets might be a picture book, but there was just too much story to tell. It is now slotted in for 10-14 year-old's, but I have heard from readers as young as 8. One of my oldest readers was himself a hidden child. He wrote to me to say he thought I had captured the experience quite accurately.
Q: In the current publishing climate, with the wild success of the Wimpy Kid series, dystopian novels like Hunger Games, and the continued popularity of fantasy series in the Harry Potter style, do you have any advice on how librarians, parents, and teachers can encourage children to explore historical fiction like Odette's Secrets?
A: I have developed a teacher's guide for "Odette's Secrets," which is downloadable on my website, www.maryannmacdonald.com. It offers many ways to draw readers into the book. Obviously, linking the story with the history curriculum, with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and with National Poetry Month might help. Not every book suits every reader, but Odette's Secrets has found many appreciative readers. Fans of this genre can discover other great WWII books I've enjoyed, from picture books on up, on the "Odette's Secrets" FB page.
Q: Can you share with us five children's books that made a big impact on you as a young person?
A: Like so many young girls of my time, I fell in love with the Little House Books, especially "Little House on the Prairie." Now that I think of it, that series has some similarities with Odette's Secrets: adventure, family closeness, life-threatening danger. I read every book in our local library on pioneer life, too. But I also loved books about England, especially "The Secret Garden," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," and "Mary Poppins." I think my love of English children's literature was partly responsible for the fact that when I grew up, I went to live in England for 23 years. And again, like so many girls of yesterday and today, I loved Nancy Drew. My granddaughter loves her, too.
Q: What books are currently on your nightstand? (or in your e-reader, if you prefer your books in that format?)
A: I just read "The Hare with the Amber Eyes" with my book group. I enjoyed that in paperback, but I LOVE my Kindle, too, and take it everywhere. Now I live in New York City, so I get a lot of reading done on the subway, so take my Kindle everywhere in my handbag. I'm reading "The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry" by British writer Rachel Joyce on it right now. I also listen to books on my I-Pod while walking in Central Park and while cooking. My latest cooking favorite is "The Hobbit" by Tolkein and my latest walking favorite is "City of Thieves," by David Benioff, about the siege of Leningrad. Background reading gets fitted in at the library and just before bedtime.
It is 1992 and postmodernism is the dominent art movement of the moment. Rafe Sinclair, founder of The American Academy of Classical Art in New York City, is a classicist through and through, but now he is facing grumblings from some of his board member who think other art forms should be introduced, a board that wouldn't mind removing Rafe as head of the Academy.
But his Board isn't the only problem Rafe has. First, Rafe is a vampire and is trying desperatgely to hold on to his sense of humanity even as he is forced to kill in order to live. Second, Rafe was an art student in the 1930. He had met and fallen in love with a young Jewish woman, a fellow artist, just before World War II began, and he is still in love with her, although he believes she had perished in the Holocaust.
Tessa Moss is a young art student at the Academy, talented but naive and involved in an unhealthy relationship with another artist, the very narcissistic Lucian Swain. Rafe never really noticed Tessa's work until one day when he notices a sketch she has done of a woman with a child by a suitcase that has the name Witzotsky written on it. The woman is covering the eyes of the child with her hand. Rafe begins to take a special interest in Tessa and her work.
Witzotsky is a familiar name to Rafe and it turns out that Tessa has sketched a picture depicting a relative of hers named Sofia Witzotsky. And, in fact, Sofia is the very same woman that Rafe was involved with, the same woman he thought he had lost in the Holocaust. Or had he? After all, he never really knew what Sofia's fate had actually been? Before long, Tessa and Rafe are involved with each other, which is against school rules and just the kind of infraction the board could use to remove Rafe from his position as head of the Academy. But if Tessa can help Rafe discover what really happened to Sofia, maybe it was worth the risk.
Helen Mayles Shankman has written a long, complicated book encompassing two time periods, and a fair amount of different characters. It is very well written, engaging, compelling and I actually enjoyed the intricacies of the plot twists and turns. Rafe and Tessa are believable (well, except for the vampire part), well defined, likable characters, each carrying a lot of baggage that goes back to the Holocaust: Rafe may have lost the love of his life, and Tessa has lost one whole family line on her father's side.
The Color of Light
is a novel that will definitely please your romantic sensibilities, and your penchant for historical fiction and has all the elements of a good mystery novel all in one long (574 pages) story. Shankman has a MFA in painting, so her art/artistic descriptions are pretty spot on and you will have no trouble picturing works of art that don't really exist.
My vampire fan days are long behind me and vampires are certainly not something I expected to read about when I started this blog. And yet, I have certainly read my share of fantasy and science fiction here, so why not vampires? But the fact that Rafe Sinclair is a vampire is only a plot device allowing the narrative its dual time frame with him in both time periods as a man his age and it worked.
And generally the YA/Adult books I review here are of the cozy type, but variety is the spice of life and The Color of Life
is a spicy novel that could be classified as New Adult/Adult. What I mean is that it has more sexual content than most of the YA/Adult I review.
My friend Zohar over at Man of La Book
recommended The Color of Light to me and I am so glad he did. And I am paying it forward.
This book is recommended for mature readers age 15+
This book was sent to me by the author
A Reading Group Guide for The Color of Light is available HERE
Young Uri loves to visit his grandparents. He sees his vacations there as a quiet respite from the daily routines and annoyances of life at home, especially his nagging sister. Grandpa Yuda always has time to play with him, and Grandma Genia loves to pamper him with hot chocolate and homemade cookies.
But Uri's favorite spot in his grandparent's home is Grandpa Yuda's study. In the study, Uri tells the reader, his Grandpa has a desk with three drawers and he is allowed to keep his pencil case and crayons in the first drawer. Grandpa keeps all kinds of little toys he used to play with when he was a boy before the war in the second drawer, and now, he lets Uri play with them. But the third drawer is always kept locked. No one, not even Uri, is allowed to open it and Grandpa never talks about what's inside.
Naturally, Uri can't help but wonder about that third drawer - what's in there and why it is a secret.
Then, one cold, rainy winter day, Uri finds himself home alone for a little while and decides to color. He goes into Grandpa's study to get his crayons, and there in the first drawer is a key, one he is certain would open the third drawer.
Sure enough, when he puts the key into the keyhole and turns it, the drawer opens. But just then, Grandpa Yuda walks into the room and catches him holding a yellow star with a safety pin, just one of the things Uri found in the drawer. At first, Grandpa is angry at Uri, but then he decides to tell him about the contents of the locked drawer.
Grandpa tells Uri about being sent to live in a ghetto with his parents and sister Anna, about how hungry he was there, because they were allowed so little food with their ration stamps. In the drawer, is the doll his mother made for Anna from rags, and the dominoes he made himself from wooden scraps while in the ghetto.
And he tells Uri about the day his family was separated by the Nazis, never to be seen again. His grandparents were sent to a concentrations camp, while his sister and parents sent somewhere else on trains. Grandpa Yuda was sent to a labor camp.
Uri tells us they stayed up late that night talking about these events and even afterwards, Uri had lots of questions which Grandpa always took the time to answer while they played with the homemade wooden dominoes.
The Holocaust is a delicate subject and it is hard to know when to talk to young children about it. For the children, grandchildren and now even the great grandchildren of survivors, that may happen sooner than for other kids, because they may hear things being said, or noticed the number on a grandparent's arm.
Whatever your reasons for starting a conversation about the Holocaust with a younger child, this gentlest of stories would be an ideal way to begin, just as Uri's Grandpa did. As Grandpa explains what happened to his family, he keeps the focus on his them and not on the Nazis.
The story is told in clear, simple language, and enough details are given for a child to understand what happened to Grandpa's and his family without becoming too graphic to frighten. This focus on Uri's family history also helps him to feel more connected to them and his Grandfather and is more emotionally age appropriate for a child around Uri's age (which is probably 6 or &). Details of Nazi atrocities will come later in Uri's life, when he can emotionally handle them better.
Grandpa's Third Drawer
was originally published in Israel in 2003, where it won the Ze'ev Prize for Children's Literature. It is newly translated picture book has now been published for young readers in English. The artifacts and illustrations used by Kopelman were used courtesy of Beit Theresienstadt Archives, in Givat-Haim Ichud, Israel
Grandpa's Third Drawer will be available on May 1, 2014.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was an eARC received from Edelweiss
Most people are familiar with the story about how and why Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in the attic of her father's business in Amsterdam after Adolf Hitler's army invaded Holland. The diary she wrote as a young teenager is a priceless artifact of those terrible times. Anne, her sister Margot, and her mother did not survive after they were captured by the Nazis, only her father lived. But Anne diary has become a symbol of courage, innocence, and one of the most tragic periods in recent history.
But if you knew Anne and her family were hidden away from the Nazis, you also probably figured that there were more, many, many more that we haven't heard much about. Indeed, according to Marcel Prins, author of Hidden Like Anne Frtank,
approximately 28,000 Jews went into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Of those, around 16,000 survived, and 12,000 did not. Fascinated by his own mother's story of hiding and surviving, Prins collected stories of other children like her, and the result is Hidden Like Anne Frank
, fourteen true stories of surviving the Holocaust by Jewish youths, both boys and girls, stories that are all different, all dangerous, all told in their own words.
Prins begins the book with his own mother's account of going into hiding. Only 5 at the time, Rita Degen was forced to lie about her age and say she only going on 5, not 6, so that she wouldn't have to wear the required Yellow Star that marked her as Jewish. She was quickly removed from her first foster family when someone recognized her, but luckily placed by the resistance in another home, where she was wanted.
Frightened by the deportations, Bloeme Emden, 16, was one of the people to be called up. Her father managed to get it delayed, but that didn't last long. She was told that if she didn't show up, her parents and younger sister would be taken. Bloeme managed to get away again, but ultimately ended up in Auschwitz, where she ran into friends from school - Margot and Anne Frank. Her parents and sister did not survive the Holocaust.
Hiding, constantly needing to change your identity, both name and religion, forced to lie and to live in fear are all part of the stories by these fourteen survivors. At times, most of these youths managed to survive with the help of the Dutch Resistance, at other times, they simply survived by their own wits using creativity, stealth, craftiness. Some found themselves in situations where they welcomed and cared for, others were taken advantage of, or terribly mistreated. They were separated from their families and many never saw them again. All of their individual stories attest to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Hidden Like Anne Frank
is a fascinating, compellingly poignant collection of true stories. The individual accounts are not very long, but they certainly convey the fear and danger that al Jews in hiding were forced to live with day by day, never knowing if they would see tomorrow or not, if they would see their loved ones again or not. Prins has included lots of old photographs from the times before and after the children were hidden and at the end of the book, there are recent photographs of each person who contributed their story.
Hidden Like Anne Frank
book should have lots of appeal for young readers, many, no doubt, will be drawn to it by Anne's name on the cover. But it is also a perfect collection for any classroom when students begin studying World War II and the Holocaust.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was received as an eARC from NetGalley
Be sure to visit the website devoted to Hidden like Anne Frank
to hear more stories of survival told by these and other survivors.
This is book 1 of my European Reading Challenge
hosted by Rose City Reader
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By: Keith Schoch,
This week I received two emails from teachers asking what writing assignments I incorporated when teaching about the Holocaust. Although it largely depends upon the classes taught, I typically ask students to complete four writing assignments which are directly or indirectly connected to our Holocaust unit.
The first piece of writing students tackle, even before discussions of the Holocaust begin, is an argumentative piece called Citizenship Credits. That assignment is described in this post; you can download the prompt from there, or from below.
As students read the latter portion of The Devil's Arithmetic, they take notes on the camp rules and Rivka's rules using a two column chart created in their notebooks. Students record both the rules they discover, as well as the page numbers upon which they appear. They later use these notes for a second piece: a comparison-contrast essay. They use this very simple model or this very simple model to structure their essay, but their writing is, of course, much more complex, as all points need to be text supported and elaborated upon. (For students needing some further direct instruction in comparing and contrasting, you may find portions of this ReadWriteThink interactive to be helpful).
Should Sixth Graders Study the Holocaust? Once we've completed the novel, I challenge my students with this essay topic: "Should Sixth Graders Study the Holocaust?" The fact is, many parents and educators believe they should not. Students consult many online sources for support, including a speech by Jane Yolen which includes the "Alphabet of Evil," and a collection of quotes I've compiled. Some teachers may disagree with providing resources for their students, but after viewing many online sources which turned out to be inappropriate, biased, or simply hateful, I chose to provide students with some excerpts which I had personally vetted). A huge emphasis here is on recognizing and refuting opposing points of view.Improving the World A last writing piece which students produce nearly a month after our Holocaust unit is based upon an Anne Frank quote: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." In their responses, students provide examples of ways that others have improved the world, and ways in which they, in their present role as student, can do the same. This link shows how we organize the essay, and also provides many possible openings as well as ways in which to revisit those openings in the closing paragraph.Hope these suggestions help. What responses to Holocaust studies have your students written?
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By: Keith Schoch,
In discussing the persecution of European Jews in the years before and during World War II, my students would often ask, "How could they let this happen?
" Meaning, how could the rest of the world stand by and do nothing? For all the answers I can help students to find, I still can't answer this question myself.
The question asked nearly as often, however, is this: "Why didn't the Jews fight back?" But to that question I can readily answer, "They did. They did fight back. But realize that it wasn't just with guns; even children your age found ways to disrupt and defy the Nazis who tried to exterminate them."
In teaching the topic of Jewish resistance, I've found a great resource in an impressive series of six books from Enslow Publishing titled True Stories of Teens in the Holocaust
explores, through hundreds of primary documents and photographs, the diverse experiences of Jewish and non-Jewish youth caught up in the Holocaust.
Another terrific single-volume resource for any middle or high school classroom is Doreen Rapapport's Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
, published by Candlewick Press.
Check out the books below, and then read on for suggested sites for helping students learn history through analyzing primary sources.Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust
The popular title Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust
documents both violent and nonviolent defiance of Nazi terrorism, from the increasingly overt persecution of early 1930s Germany to resistance efforts in France to the twenty-seven days of the Warsaw uprising. Readers learn how subtle and secretive efforts by Jews and Gentile sympathizers disrupted and distracted occupying enemy troops in some circumstances, while outright armed resistance and acts of sabotage wreaked chaos and destruction in others.
From Courageous Teen Resisters
: Courageous Teen Resisters
is recommended as a stand-alone volume for students seeking to learn more about Jewish Resistance, as well an informational text companion to Heroes of the Holocaust: True Stories of Rescues by Teens
(available from Scholastic
The remaining five titles in the Enslow series are described below with a short publisher's summary or excerpt as well as recommended companion titles. This series is especially useful in text pairings not only to meet demands of the Common Core emphasis on informational texts, but to provide students with the necessary historical and social contexts needed to truly appreciate biography and historical fiction rooted in the Holocaust. (If you're seeking Holocaust texts for lower-level readers, be sure to check out my Annotated List of Holocaust Picture Books
).Youth Destroyed - The Nazi Camps
"Alice Lok was deported to Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, in 1944. Upon her arrival, she faced a "selection." Alice had to stand in line as a Nazi doctor examined the new camp inmates. If the doctor pointed one direction, it meant hard labor—but labor meant life. If the doctor pointed the other way, that meant immediate death. Alice was lucky. She survived Auschwitz and two other camps. However, millions of Jews were not so lucky." ~ from the publisher Youth Destroyed - The Nazi Camps
is recommended as an informational text companion to The Devil's Arithmetic
(gr. 6-8), Prisoner B-3087
(gr. 6-9; see my review here
), Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story
(gr. 4-6), Hana's Suitcase
(gr. 4-5), Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust
(gr. 5-7), I am a Star: Child of the Holocaust
(gr. 5-7), Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
(gr. 5-8), I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up In The Holocaust
(gr. 8-12), and Night
(grades 9-up).Trapped - Youth in the Nazi Ghettos
"(M)any Jewish youth living in the ghettos in Europe... faced death, fear, hunger, hard labor, and disease everyday. Millions of Jews were forced into ghettos, where the Nazis kept them until they could be deported to the death camps." ~ from the publisher
For this title I'd recommend Children in the Ghetto
, an interactive site which describes itself as
"...A website about children, written for children. It portrays life during the Holocaust from the viewpoint of children who lived in the ghetto, while attempting to make the complex experience of life in the ghetto as accessible as possible to today’s children.
Along with the description of the hardships of ghetto life, it also presents the courage, steadfastness and creativity involved in the children’s lives. One of the most important messages to be learned is that despite the hardships, there were those who struggled to maintain humanitarian and philanthropic values, care for one another, and continue a cultural and spiritual life."
By examining writings, artifacts, and first hand interviews, students gain an understanding of the "anything-to-survive" mentality which the ghetto created, and demanded, of its inhabitants. Students can explore freely, taking advantage of the interactive elements, or respond to prompts in writing using the printable handouts (I downloaded the handouts, available in Word format, and adapted them according to my lesson objectives).
Once students have interacted with this site, they will have a mental bank of sites, sounds, stories, and symbols from which to draw upon, greatly increasing their understanding and appreciation of this nonfiction text as well as any novel with which they're working.Trapped - Youth in the Nazi Ghettos
is recommended as an informational text companion to The Island on Bird Street
(gr. 4-6), Milkweed
(gr. 6-8), Yellow Star
(gr. 5-8), and Daniel's Story
(gr. 4-8).Escape - Teens on the Run
"Thousands of Jews lived on the run during the Holocaust. Some were able to escape Germany before the war started. Others had to move throughout Europe to flee the Nazis. And many more could not escape at all." ~ from the publisher
Escape: Teens on the Run
|From Escape - Teens on the Run|
is recommended as an informational text companion to Number the Stars
(gr. 4-5), The Night Spies
(gr. 3-5), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
(gr. 4-6), Escape: Children of the Holocaust
(gr. 5-7), Run, Boy, Run
(gr. 5-8), Once
(gr. 6-10), and Survivors: True Stories of Children of the Holocaust
(grades 5-8).Hidden Teens, Hidden Lives
"(T)housands of Jews went into hiding during the Holocaust. Barns, trapdoors, bunkers, secret attics, forged identity papers, and fake names became tools for survival." ~ from the publisher
The fate of Jews who were hidden is of special interest to students. Even in a classroom that chooses not to embark upon a full Holocaust unit, time can certainly be devoted to learning about Jews who went into hiding rather than face extermination by the Nazis.
The uncertainty of such a choice is reflected in this diary entry from Anne Frank which appears in the book:Hidden Teens, Hidden Lives
is recommended as an informational text companion to Number the Stars
(gr. 4-5), Jacob's Rescue
(gr. 3-5), The Upstairs Room
(gr. 4-5), Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival
(gr. 4-6), Anne Frank (10 Days)
(gr. 5-7), The Hidden Girl: A True Story of the Holocaust
(gr. 4-6), Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
(gr. 7-up), and The Book Thief
(gr, 8-up).Shattered Youth in Nazi Germany
"Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party's rise to power in the 1930s changed life dramatically for all people living in Germany. Hitler used propaganda, fear, and brutality as his main weapons. Jewish children faced strong antiSemitism in their schools and on the street, and saw their families ripped apart. Non-Jewish children deemed "undesirable" suffered a similar fate. "Aryan" children were forced to enter Hitler Youth groups or endure humiliation." ~ from the publisher
This book is a real stand-out as it not only chronicles the experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, but also Gentiles who were reluctant to submit to Nazi ideologies.Shattered Youth in Nazi Germany
is recommended as an informational text companion to The Big Lie
(gr. 3-5), The Boy Who Dared
(gr. 6-8), The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible . . . on Schindler's List
(gr. 5-9), Someone Named Eva
(gr. 6-9), Parallel Journeys
(gr. 6-8), The Book Thief
(gr. 9-up), Hitler's Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow
(gr. 6-12), and The Berlin Boxing Club
(gr. 9-12).Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
If you're looking for a single-volume resource for any middle or high school classroom, I recommend Doreen Rappaport's multiple award winning Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
, published by Candlewick Press.
Like all of Candlewick's titles, this text is supported by a number of resources available from the publisher's site, including a full page spread
, a teacher's guide
, an interview with a survivor
, and an audio excerpt
. The book itself includes primary source excerpts, maps, a pronunciation guide, timeline, index, and sources.
In speaking of her accomplishment (which took five years to research and write), author Doreen Rappaport says,
"How Jews organized themselves in order to survive and defy their enemy is an important but still neglected piece of history. I present a sampling of actions, efforts, and heroism with the hope that I can play a role in helping to correct the damaging and persistent belief that Jews ‘went like sheep to the slaughter.’"Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
A key resource for teaching Jewish resistance, and for discovering a multitude of primary sources, is the web site of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
, whose key mission is "to develop and distribute effective educational materials about the Jewish partisans and their life lessons, bringing the celebration of heroic resistance against tyranny into educational and cultural organizations."
Over 30,000 Jewish partisans, or “members of an organized body of fighters who attack or harass an enemy, especially within occupied territory.” joined the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish resistance fighters who fought the Nazis. Interestingly, however, their assistance was not always welcome, as antisemitism was often common in non-Jewish resistance groups.
This comprehensive and well constructed site offers teachers and students myriad free resources including:
- Professional Development modules which can be completed for continuing education credits (CEUs) (I highly recommend that prior to using this site you complete at least the first module, to better understand how to best access the site's videos, articles, lesson plans, student hand-outs, and more);
- An extensive film collection, containing 3 to 20 minute films trhough which students can "witness the Jewish partisans' stories of endurance, victory, and struggle;"
- Interactive maps of Jewish partisan activity;
- A Virtual Underground Bunker;
- An Image Gallery (captioned and sourced);
- Downloads for the classroom and a Resource Search option; and
- A very unique tool called Someone Like Me, where a students enter a combination of characteristics which describe themselves, and the site presents a partisan who matches those characteristics. Students can then explore the life and work of that partisan through any of the resource links above.
Because the impact of Holocaust education relies heavily upon students learning the true events of this tragedy, primary sources should play a role in every Holocaust unit. The JPEF site described above provides a wonderful collection of sources from which to choose, but below I have compiled a number of additional resources which educators may find useful in planning their instruction. As always, please reach out and let me know what other sites, books, and documents you've found useful.Why Should I Use Primary Sources?Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students
From Learn NC, a step-by-step guide for students examining primary sources, with specific questions divided into five layers of questioning.Primary Document Webinar
This hour long recorded webinar present teachers with not only reasons for using primary sources, but also ten really easy-to-implement ideas for starting with primary sources in the classroom.Making Sense of Evidence
This is a highly recommended collection of articles written by experts in the field on how to make sense of films, oral histories, numbers, maps, advertisements, and more. While written by the experts, students will find the language they use to be accessible. From the site:
“Making Sense of Documents” provide strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself then providing audio clips in which leading scholars interpret the document and discuss strategies for overall analysis.
Because of the career connections, this site is a valuable tool for achieving College and Workplace Readiness goals.Engaging Students with Primary Sources
from Smithsonian’s History Explorer site
A 64 page pdf that serves as an excellent introduction to using primary sources.Primary Sources Fitting into CCSS
Brief article showing how instruction with primary docs helps fulfill CCSS.Teaching the Holocaust with Primary Sources
From Eastern Illionis University, a Holocaust Unit utilizing resources provided by the Library of Congress.Library of Congress: Why Use Primary Sources?
Very brief pdf discusses reasons in bullets; good for making your point when discussing unit plans with others.Primary Sources Cautionary Tales
Considerations and concerns surrounding primary sources. Where Can I Find Lesson Plans with Primary Sources?I Witness
From the USC Shoah Foundation, this site contains over 1300 video testimonies and other digital resources, as well as assistance for educators seeking to use these tools in Holocaust education.Response to the Holocaust: Resistance and Rescue(Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center)
A pdf format document filled with original writings and suggested student activities; you can also download the entire curriculum
from the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center
.Jewish Resistance: A Curriculum from The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida
Lesson plans include original documents, along with suggested student questions to help analyze them.The Power to Choose: Bystander or Rescuer?
Popular set of plans that has been online for some time; used by many educators as a good starting place for planning units. Where Can I Find Additional Sites for Primary Sources?PBS Learning Media - Interviews with Survivors and Rescuers
A good online source for interviews.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Offers an ever-changing variety of resources, as well as searchable pages for research. Educators can often request free teaching materials as well. PBS Resources on the Holocaust
The search page of PBS provides a vast number of resources, including excerpts from shows which have appeared on public television.Oral History from Virginia Holocaust Museum
Oral History Project provides witness of survivors and rescuers.Dr. Seuss Went to War
Theodore Geisel was a radical political cartoonist who urged America to join "Europe's war,"
in large part due to the oppressive policies of Hitler's Nazi. But are Geisel's cartoons themselves a type of propaganda? See an earlier post here on Propaganda and Persuasion
.What Strategies or Tools are Available to Assist Students in Analyzing Sources?SOAPS Primary Document Strategy
This pdf provides information about the SOAPS acrostic, which students can easily recall for use in analyzing primary sources of information.Primary Source Analysis Tools from the Library of Congress
Several different tools in pdf form for analyzing oral histories, manuscripts, maps, movies, and more.Document Analysis Worksheets from National Archive
These pdfs allow for blank printing or for students to type directly on them and then print out or save; very handy for conducting analysis online.Analyzing a Primary Source Rubric
A rubric for scoring student efforts in using primary sources.
Imagine surviving 1 ghetto, 10 concentration camps and 2 death marches. Well, here is the story of a boy who did just that.
At 10 years old, Yanek Gruener's life means friends, school and most importantly, being surrounded by loving relatives all living in the center of Krakow, Poland. But his relatives know that soon something is going to happen - after all, they are Jews in a Europe that Hitler wants to make "Jew free." Sure enough, only six days after the German invasion of Poland, Nazi soldiers march into Krakow, and not long after that, one after another rights, privileges, pleasures, food and freedom are denied its Jewish citizens, until, in 1942, when Yanek is 12, the Nazis begin building the wall that will become the Krakow Ghetto and Yanek soon finds himself living there along with thousands of other displaced Jews.
In the ghetto, Yanek and his father prove to be very resourceful in order to survive. When roundups start, to avoid be sent "to the east" and an unknown future, Yanek finds an abandoned pigeon coop on the roof of their building where the family takes up residence. To feed his family, Yanek's father manages to get bread under very dangerous circumstances. And, most telling of all, despite the danger after the Nazis forbide Jews to practice their religion, his father gets together a minyan
(a quorum of 10 bar mitvahed
men) late one night for Yanek's very unusual secret bar mitvah
The ghetto proves to be only the beginning of Yanek's journey through a system of concentration camps, where survival sometimes depends of cunning, sometimes on luck, always knowing that your life is in the hands of sadistic Nazis, some of whom like to kill Jews for sport.
By the time Yanek is sent from the ghetto to the first of ten concentration camps, he has lost his family in a roundup and deportation heading "east" but finds his Uncle Moshe at Plaszów Concentration Camp. You may remember Plaszów from Schindler's List,
the camp run by the very, very cruel SS Commander Amon Goeth. It is here that Yanek's Uncle Moshe teaches him survival skills that will serve him well at each camp he is sent to. As a result, Yanek's resolve to survive almost never falters, even when he comes very close to dying.
(B for Birkenau) is based on the life of the real Yanek/Jack Gruener. It is told in a simple, straightforward manner, narrated in the first person by the fictional Yanek, but the voice of the actual Gruener comes through clearly, giving it a sense of authenticity. Yanek never, no matter how badly he is treated, gives into feeling victimized, which is amazing, but may also account for his strong will to survive. Yanek's descriptions of certain things that he either witnesses or that were done to him are sometimes a bit hard to read, but never gratuitous and not including them would sanitize Nazi cruelty to every degree.
The narration skillfully balances these cruel, sadistic acts against the Jews with some real heartwarming moments, like the night of Yanek's secret bar mitvah
, a kindness Yanek was to repay in Birkenau two years later when he is the first to volunteer to be part of a minyan
for another 13 year old boy's forbidden bar mitvah
, even though getting caught would mean certain death.
After I read Prisoner B-3087,
I felt compelled to do two things. First, I had to make an outline of the places and events in Yanek Gruener's life as he was sent from camp to camp, sometimes in cattle cars, sometimes on foot in freezing weather. Second, I would have liked a map to get a real sense not just of where Yanek was at each part of his life under the Nazis, but also the distances he traveled. I think these would give a real appreciation of his survival. But since they didn't include map, and others might fell as I do, I found this one at the Jewish Virtual Library
and modified it a bit to reflect Yanek's experience:
|Click to enlarge|
is a book that really must be read to be fully appreciated. Yanek/Jack Gruener's story is incredible, haunting, compelling, heart wrenching, rewarding and not to be missed (and you will find out how Yanek became Jack).
This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was received as an E-ARC from Net Galley
Last week I applied to have my German citizenship restored. This is because I would be German if not for the Holocaust. That is, everyone in the generations before me on both my mother and father’s sides were German and Jewish. Some of them stayed and survived for various reasons (say because their ancestors had converted a few generations earlier and according to the various rules of the Nazis they were no longer Jewish), some (my grandfather for one) were killed, and some left in time for Brazil, Israel, England, and the United States.
So I’ve provided the necessary documentation and expect to get my German citizenship before long. Why? It may surprise some, but I feel very German. I was raised with German food, German activities, and so forth. My father was a specialist in German politics and I spent a lot of time in Germany (years, in fact) as a child. I speak German fluently. My family was assimilated and so I have German relatives who are Christian because their ancestors converted and in 2005 I met many of them for the first time when the University of Frankfurt celebrated my great-grandfather who was a famous brain specialist and started the Edinger Institut there. As for my mother’s family, they were from Berlin and managed to get out so late because of our cousin Lotte Passer who was already in London. Lotte died last month at the age of 99. You can see a moving interview with her here. I’ve always been fascinated that my parents were interned as enemy aliens on the Isle of Man because England was at war with German and they were, after all, German. Lotte died last month at the age of 99. You can see a moving interview with her here. Another cousin Werner Isler, came to the States. An avid music lover, he passed away last month as well; you can hear his lovely piano playing here.
Over the years I’ve done many posts related to the Holocaust. Here are a few of them:
There was just no way a chocoholic such a myself could pass on reading a book called My Chocolate Year.
And I am glad I did.
It is September 1945, the war is over and Dorrie Meyers is starting fifth grade. And the best part is that her best friend Sunny Shapiro is in her class and their teacher is the very popular Miss Fitzgerald. Popular because each year, Miss Fitzgerald has a Sweet Semester, in which each student thinks up a dessert to make, writes an essay about it and in January they all bring in their entries and a prize goes out to one winner dessert and one winning essay.
Dorrie loves chocolate passionately and is very excited about Sweet Semester, except for one problem - she has no idea how to make anything, let alone a prize winning dessert. And this year is a special Sweet Semester because not only will family members be invited, but the winners will also get their pictures in the Chicago Daily News
. In addition, since there are now so many orphans in Europe as a result of the war, the class will has a donation jar set up to collect money to send to a charity which cares for the orphans.
The subject of orphans soon hits home for Dorrie. Her grandparents had all migrated to America, but there were still relatives who had remained in Lithuania. No one knew what happened to them after war. Since they were Jewish the worst was feared and Dorrie's mother has been making inquires to find them. Then, one November morning, good news arrives. Victor Dubin, son of Dorrie's Aunt Mina and Uncle Joseph and grandson of Dorrie's Bubbie, was found living in a Displaced Persons camp. No sooner found, than arrangements begin to be made to bring Victor to America. Sadly, no other family members survived.
Victor, now an orphan, and orphan jar in school get Dorrie to thinking about the Margaret O'Brien and the movie Journey for Margaret
, about a young girl orphaned during the London Blitz. How, Dorrie wonders, did she play such a convincing orphan? So she writes a letter to the actress to ask.
Meanwhile, Dorrie and Sunny experiment with different possibilities for Sweet Semester. The first idea, Chocolate Covered Gum, dissolves into a chocolaty mess. Their chocolate covered nuts and raisins clusters taste delicious, but was that all chocolate in them? Oh, and when you add flour to brownies using the electric mixer, it is much easier if you turn the mixer off.
It is really beginning to look like Dorrie isn't going to win that Sweet Semester competition despite the fact that both her mother and Buddie are excellent bakers. She just doesn't seem to have a natural instinct for baking. She really needs a miracle...could that miracle come in the form of both real and movie orphans?
This is a lovely story about the strength and importance of family. It is told in Dorrie's voice and even though it is not written as a diary, it reads like on. The book follows the year though all the Jewish holidays, starting with Rosh Hashanah and Dorrie explains the story and Jewish customs for celebrating each holiday for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with them. She also talks about the war and it's effect on her family, and when Victor comes, we hear his story in detail, but not so much detail that it would be too much for the targeted age of intended readers. This is a book, after all, that is written for kids who are beginning to learn about the Holocaust.
Now, the 12 recipes. Not all are real recipes, but some are and they are made from scratch. My 10 year old budding chef liked that idea, since she is a cooking purist. We actually make Dorrie's Sweet Semester entry, which was so good that when I went to take a picture, they were all gone. Lesson learned - don't leave good tasting stuff unattended with kids in the house and without telling them hands off.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads
Blog: Boys and Reading, Writing and Learning
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By: Trudy Zufelt,
In 1946, a young Holocaust survivor arrives to a New York yeshiva. The orphan, Daniel, is one of twenty boys from Poland who lost their parents in concentration camps. Daniel brings with him the only possession he owns, a small box he never lets out of his sight.
The narrator, a boy with a stuttering problem named Aaron, befriends Daniel. Together they face the taunts of the other schoolboys as they tease Aaron about his speech. At the same time, the other boys try to cajole Daniel into revealing what is inside his precious box.A haunting secret lies within the box. A secret left me shocked and horrified while at the same time leaving me in awe at the healing power of friendship and love. In a sea of Holocaust books, Greenhorn stands apart as a simple but powerful story of the horrors of inhumanity towards our fellow man. Olswanger's masterfully written short, illustrated middle grade novel lends itself to a more mature audience or a parent-child read aloud and is sure to spark a somber discussion. The fact that Greenhorn is based on a true story, deepens the powerful impact.
Highly Recommended (5 stars)
Publishing InformationPublisher: New South BooksAges: 8 and upPages: 48ISBN-13: 978-1-58838-235-1
Purchase from the following retailers:
When I first started this blog, I reviewed a book called The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square
by Joseph Ziemian. It was the first of many books about the Warsaw Ghetto that I have reviewed here and these stories about the brave individuals who were part of the resistance never has ceased to awe me.
So when I found The Cats of Krasinski
by Karen Hesse on the library shelf, I thought Wonderful! A nice picture book for older readers who may already have some familiarity with the Holocaust to introduce them to the Warsaw Ghetto and Jewish Resistance in WWII.
As we know, lots of Jewish children of all ages often escaped the Ghetto and lived openly right under the Gestapo's nose, passing for Aryan. Whenever they were able, they smuggled food and other necessities back to family and friends still behind the Ghetto wall.
In Hesse's story, two sisters have escaped the Ghetto and are living hand to mouth in Warsaw. The younger sister has befriended the cats that became homeless when their owners were rounded up to live in the Ghetto. Her older sister, Mira, is working with the resistance. They are expecting some food to arrive by train, carried by other resistance workers, to be stuffed into the holes in the Ghetto wall where it can be found by the Jews still living there.
But word comes that the Gestapo knows about the plan and will be waiting at the train station with trained dogs to arrest the resistance workers and confiscate the food. The young girl gets an idea to distract the Gestapo's dogs when the train arrives. And it works, thanks to the cat of Krasinski Square. The cats are gathered up and let loose just as the train arrives.
The Cats of Krasinksi Square
is an uplifting age appropriate story that has a lot to say to young readers not only about courage and taking risks, but that sometimes kids can come up with ideas that actually work. Told in sparse, lyrical free verse, the story is enhanced by the corresponding illustrations by Wendy Watson. Watson used washed out muted colors in pencil, ink and watercolor that certainly evoke the place and period in her beautifully rendered illustrations.
I thought that putting a merry-go-round in Krasinski Square at the the beginning and end of the book was an interesting touch. Carousels are such iconic symbols of happy children having fun, yet here it is juxtaposed with and accentuating the deplorable conditions that the Nazis forced upon the Jewish children. It makes a very telling comment.
This story is, as Hesse writes in her Author's Note, based on a real event involving cats outsmarting the Gestapo at the train station in Warsaw that caught her attention when she read about it. There is also a historical note about the Warsaw Ghetto and Jewish Resistance that anyone not very familiar with these might want to read.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
Today I’ve something completely different for you.
Given the age of my kids I tend to review picture books, chapter books and nonfiction aimed at the under 10 crowd. But over the summer I read a YA novel that took my breath away; and this is no trope, for I finished it gulping for air, both sobbing and full of not-exactly-joy but certainly a passion for life.
I simply couldn’t not share it with you. I want to share the very best of books with you, and this is one of those. Whilst I’m sure it will win awards, I’m even more confident that it will change the shape of your heart and what you see around you.
The book that will do this is Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.
Starkly put, Rose Under Fire is about life in Ravensbrück concentration camp during the Second World War.
It’s about the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) of the British Royal Air Force and the women who played a part in it. It’s about the “Rabbits”, 86 women on whom brutal medical experiments were conducted without consent, whilst prisoners in Ravensbrück. Its about some of the themes and characters of an earlier (and also excellent, award winning) novel by Wein, Code Name Verity, exploring their lives later in the war. It’s a riveting, deeply moving book, and one of the questions it raises is about how to bear witness to the Holocaust.
I felt the best way I could do that right now, was to interview Wein.
Playing by the book: Rose Under Fire tells a (fictional) account of an American civilian’s experience of her time in Ravensbrück concentration camp towards the end of the Second World War. It is beautiful, sensitive, and brimming with passion, love, hope. It is also utterly harrowing to read. I don’t think I stopped sobbing for the last 100 pages. What on earth was it like to write? (In the afterword you share one instance where you did cry, but the experience of reading it is so emotionally draining – and in equal measure emotionally uplifting – that I can’t believe researching and writing it was any easier on the heart.)
Elizabeth Wein: While I was writing it I kept torturing myself with my inability to tell this story — not only because I can’t possibly experience what these people experienced, but also because of my cowardice in being unable to come close to it. Could I live on a couple of pieces of bread and a bowl of broth every day for a week? I could, but I didn’t. Could I stand outside without a coat in the freezing rain for an hour or two? I could, but I didn’t. I was scared to do it: scared of cold, scared of hunger. And it felt wrong to try, since whatever I did to try to get into their shoes, I wasn’t going to be in their shoes.
And then, there were things that I couldn’t bring myself to write. I baulked at describing how they used cadavers to make the roll calls come out right. For some reason this seemed like my limit — the boundary I couldn’t cross. And then I crossed it anyway because if I don’t tell it, who’s going to know?
Playing by the book: Did you have to lock yourself away? Did you lead parallel lives for the duration, whilst writing? Did you find yourself like Rose becoming immune on some level to the horror?
Elizabeth Wein: Often, I used gaps in Rose’s memory to account for details I didn’t want to have to describe. Rose describes herself as becoming immune to the horror, but it’s probably more accurate to say you get used to it. I’ve discovered that my “immunity” is very specifically related to Ravensbrück itself. I have a heightened familiarity with that particular camp, and I’m fortified against anything I find out that happened there. But when I hear about the atrocities that happened at other camps, places I’m less familiar with, a whole new level of horror hits me. It’s like the inmates of Ravensbrück struggling to understand the rumours coming out of Auschwitz — impossible to comprehend unless you’ve seen it for yourself.
I dreamed a lot about Ravensbrück while I was writing Rose Under Fire, and I never dream about my books. Never. Curiously, in most of my dreams I was visiting, either as an onlooker or at a memorial site in the present day. Sometimes I was being treated as a prisoner, but it was always a simulation—never the real thing.
Playing by the book: Given the emotional intensity of the book I wondered if you have been able to read it since it was published – to revisit it. In the novel, two prisoners from Ravensbruck explore so thoughtfully how difficult it is for them to revisit their experiences (in the context of considering being witnesses at war crime trials after the war is over) and I wondered if you had experienced something like it with your own bearing witness.
Elizabeth Wein: One of my fears is that I’m going to be asked to read Rose’s poems in public and that, like her, I’m not going to be able to do this.
There are some things I can’t talk about. But I can’t write about them either, so yes, I guess I am like my made-up characters in the limits to which I can bear witness. An example is mothers and children in the camps. I managed to write about the cadavers, but not about mothers protecting and losing their children. I know a lot of things I can’t talk about. I guess that’s what makes me feel instinctively that some prisoners might have trouble following through with the promise to “Tell the world.”
Playing by the book: My response to your book got me thinking about “ownership” of stories about the holocaust. Part of me felt guilt for enjoying so very much a book that was only possible because real people suffered, died in the most awful of circumstances. But then I felt that perhaps it is ok for me to feel so connected to Rose’s story because it is about humankind (and the worst of humanity) and we need such stories to feel vital and relevant to us in the hope that it prevents anything like it happening again (and to remind us of the goodness, kindness, beauty all around in everyday life). As the writer of the story how did you feel about ownership? And about the relationship between “truth” and imagined stories?
Elizabeth Wein: This is so true, and so hard, and I talked about it a little in my answer to your question about what it was like to write the book. I really did feel, a lot of the time, that this was not my story to tell. But if I don’t tell it, who is going to any more? The books by the few survivors who tell their own stories are dated and out of print—and not necessarily accessible even when it’s possible to get hold of them. Several of my main sources I had to read in French. So I am telling it as far as I am able. But I don’t own this story. It belongs to the real people who lived it. I am just passing it on — a similar role to Rose’s.
As far as truth is concerned, I tried very hard not to misrepresent anything or sensationalize anything that happened within the context of Ravensbrück. There may be errors, but most of the incidents I’ve described are based on survivor accounts. I guess the difficulty is that the reader doesn’t know how much to believe. I don’t know how to remedy that in fiction — I mean, after all, for all my good intentions, it is a work of fiction.
It never occurred to me to feel guilty about anyone “enjoying” the read, though! The whole time I was writing it I kept thinking, “WHO is going to want to read this? NOBODY is going to want to read this!”
It’s true. I’m rather astonished, and delighted, to find that people are connecting with it so deeply.
Playing by the book: Ownership in another sense intrigued me; you state in the acknowledgements that your editorial team was “much more actively involved” in the creation of Rose Under Fire. Can you share a little more about this, and about how this different sort of genesis for a story felt for you as a writer
Elizabeth Wein: Well, mainly this was because I was operating under a deadline. I’ve written work-for-hire novels before to a deadline, but never a full-length book of my own creation, and that meant that I delivered a manuscript which I considered less than perfect. As a result, I was given more editorial direction in polishing the rough draft than I’ve ever had before.
I’d say that the structure of the novel changed a little as a result, but not the fabric of it. We removed some extraneous scenes and characters. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the work was that I had three editors working on this at the same time – Stella Paskins at Egmont in the UK, Catherine Onder at Disney Hyperion in the USA, and Janice Weaver at Doubleday in Canada— and they all had to be consulted and they all had to agree on any changes that I made.
It was actually Stella who came up with the title. All four of us, and my agent Ginger Clark as well, had been emailing back and forth for weeks trying out different combinations of stressful descriptive situations involving the name Rose! We all agreed, from the start, that Rose’s name should be part of the title. My working title was simply “Rose’s Book.”
I was reluctant to give up my control over the timing of the manuscript, but I really did need guidance on the revision, and was grateful for it.
Playing by the book: As part of the research for this novel you visited Ravensbruck. What it the place like today? What still exists? And what did it feel like to be there? Are any of the “Rabbits” (the name given to the women who were experimented on in Ravensbruck, and who play a major role in Rose Under Fire) still alive?
Elizabeth Wein: After the war Ravensbrück ended up deep inside East Germany, and for fifty years it was used as a Soviet Army base. So it had an active and complex history for a long time after it ceased to be a concentration camp. Under the Soviet administration a memorial site was dedicated there in 1959, so the buildings that were part of that project were preserved (essentially, the prison block). The SS barracks outside the camp walls were all used as Soviet officers’ quarters so they are all still standing and are in good shape. They are now part of the current museum and memorial site and also house a youth hostel.
A few of the factory buildings and the walls are still there, but none of the barracks remain standing. The main part of the camp has been cleared and the surface is spread with black cinders, to replicate the memorable ground cover at the time of the camp. Depressions in the ground mark where the barracks stood. Trees that were planted when the camp was first built have now matured, so the effect is that of an open plaza or park.
The administration building where new prisoners were processed no longer stands, but the red-tiled floor of the shower room has been preserved because the initial dehumanizing process of being made to strip, shower, then get your head shaved and be issued with prison clothes was a hugely traumatic experience for most prisoners and made a lasting impression on them. Even those who had been in prison for months before arriving at Ravensbrück found this process shocking.
For me, it was amazing to be at Ravensbrück. I had been so mentally invested in this place for so long (two years) before I finally got to see it. I think in some sense it must be a pale reflection of what a survivor would feel travelling back for a memorial ceremony—it obviously isn’t the place you knew, and yet you recognize it. I knew my way around. I actually ended up giving tours to some of the other people attending the summer school we were enrolled in, because most of them were there for the seminar and not because of the location, so I knew considerably more about the camp than my colleagues.
I wrote a couple of blog entries, including photographs, while I was there:
“Post from Ravensbrück”
“One More from Ravensbrück”
I believe a few of the “Rabbits” are still alive, but I’m not sure which ones. I’ve been constructed a sort of memorial page on my website, with photographs and links to their biographies. I’m about half way through and so far I haven’t been able to confirm those who are still living, but many of them did live long and productive lives after the end of the war.
I believe Wanda Połtawska, the author of And I Am Afraid of My Dreams, is still alive. The heroic Girl Scout Wacława Andrzejak may also still be living.
Playing by the book: And talking of research for your novel, you hold a pilot’s licence and clearly love flying – your knowledge and passion shine through in both Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity. As someone who doesn’t fly can you describe what it is like to pilot a plane?
Elizabeth Wein: Hahahahaha! That’s not really a question I can answer in a paragraph or two!
I think that what you really take away after a couple of lessons is that it’s actually just a mechanical skill, like driving, which you have to practise and practise until a lot of it becomes automatic. Maybe some people find it intuitive, but not me. You’re not soaring free in the sky like a bird on the wing: you’re checking your oil pressure, making time and distance and wind speed calculations, making sure the engine and radio are set correctly, etc. etc. Learning to fly is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The initial payback is a sense of satisfaction in doing a difficult job well (hopefully), and only then can you look around you and enjoy the beauty of the open sky. I try hard to get this across to my readers, too — it’s something you have to work at and take very seriously, but it really does open up wonders to you.
Playing by the book: What sort of plane do you normally fly? Of the planes you haven’t flown, what sort of plane would you like to fly?
Elizabeth Wein: I did all my training in a Cessna 152, which is a pretty standard training aircraft. Lately I’ve started flying a Piper Warrior, also known as a PA-28, which is a little bigger than a 152 (it seats 4 instead of 2!) and has low wings rather than high wings. They’re both single-engine planes. I am pretty short and find the Warrior is more comfortable for me to see out of!
Of course I dream of some day being able to try my hand at flying a Spitfire. I think every pilot does. But on a more realistic level, I’d really like to learn to fly a floatplane. I did get one lesson in one once. I have this dream where I become an expert seaplane pilot and own a little plane of my own and fly it around Scotland landing on lochs and staying at remote Victorian hotels.
Playing by the book: I understand that you are now working on a book set in Ethiopia in the run up to World War 2. Can you share a few more details? And do you have any hopes or plans to return to Maddie or Rose or any other character from Code Name Verity or Rose Under Fire in the future?
Elizabeth Wein: The new book is set during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, but its focus is on the transplanted American family who finds themselves caught up in it. There are a brother and a sister who learn to fly. I don’t really want to say more because I’m still in the middle of writing it and things are bound to change!
I do have an idea for a book set in the “next generation” of the Code Name Verity world, taking place in the early 1970s, which might feature some characters from CNV or ROSE. I guess what I should emphasize is that in my head, their stories continue before and after the events that take place in the novels. Maddie, I feel, is still alive today. My daughter and a friend and I were discussing a scenario where an elderly Maddie and Jamie are flying to France in the present day, on a scheduled commercial flight, and make a stink in security. Maddie: “I remember flying to France with no lights and 500 pounds of plastic explosive in the back and nobody made me take my shoes off!” Jamie: “You dinnae want to see my feet. I lost my toes in the North Sea.”
Playing by the book: Ah Elizabeth, yes! And how lovely to end the interview with laughter. Thank you. Thank you for your books, for your bearing witness, and – through your writing – for making me feel like I can be a better person than I am.
Elizabeth Wein’s website: http://www.elizabethwein.com/
Elizabeth Wein’s blog: http://eegatland.livejournal.com/
Elizabeth Wein on Twitter: @EWein2412
Elizabeth Wein’s keynote speech at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Conference 2013.
Thanks to Chalet Fan, whose review of Rose Under Fire made me drop everything and head straight to the bookshop.
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Recommended for ages 9-14.
World War II seems to supply authors, whether those for children or adults, with an inexhaustible supply of true stories for inspiration. Author Maryann Macdonald
turns to historical fiction in her new novel, Odette's Secrets
, about a young Jewish girl in Paris during the Nazi Occupation. Odette's story is told in spare free verse; we meet her Polish-Jewish parents who have immigrated to Paris with their only daughter Odette. Odette is beloved by her gentile godmother, the concierge at her building, and has a comfortable existence until her father joins the French military, is taken prisoner by the Germans, and conditions began to worsen considerably for the Jewish population of Paris. Soon the round-ups of foreign-born Jews begin, destined to be shipped off to the East. Odette's mother, realizing the danger, makes a plan for her daughter and the daughters of other friends to go stay with family friends in the Vendee, outside of Nazi-occupied France, where she will be in safely in the countryside with plenty to eat.
There's one wrinkle--Odette must forget that she's a Jew. She must blend in perfectly with the village children, learn how to cross herself, say Catholic prayers, attend mass, eat pork, in other words, do nothing that could distinguish her from other children in the village. She becomes very good at keeping secrets--even from her closest friends. But when her mother flees Paris to join her, suspicion follows them just the same. Can they stay safe? And what will happen after the war ends? Will her father and other relatives find them back in Paris?
This is a moving, small novel that can be read quickly but delves into real issues of prejudice, bravery, and how ordinary children can survive in dangerous and extraordinary times This novel is inspired by the life of the real Odette Myers, a story the author discovered while doing research in a Paris library; she was helped in this project by Odette's son, Daniel, who shared family photos and experiences. Highly recommended.