11 October 2009

31 & 32: Two Holocaust narratives

The author who compiled these diaries states that this is the first book of this type from this time period. She introduces the diaries with a rather difficult statement:

Perhaps it is so painful to think about the impact of the war on children - particularly their mass executions - that we have not wanted to read about it, even when that has meant refusing to hear from the children themselves. Maybe it was as much as we could bear to designate Anne Frank the representative child of the Holocaust and to think, then, only of her when we thought about children in World War II. But, in some ways, Anne Frank was not representative of children in the war and the Holocaust. Because she was in hiding, she did not experience life in the streets, the ghettos, the concentration camps, as it was lived by millions of children throughout Europe. (p.xiv)

The diaries, written by children from age 10 to age 18, are arranged chronologically by the age of the child youngest to oldest. The countries represented are Poland, Holland, German, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Lithuania, Russia, Belgium, Englan, Hungary, Israel, and Denmark. The children wrote these diaries from many different locations and situations. Many wrote from the time they moved from their loving homes to a ghetto or a hiding spot. One young boy hid in a cupboard for five year, while another lived and died much like Anne Frank. Many of the children died at the hands of the Nazis in concentration camps, with only these written words somehow surviving to tell their stories. Others survived and published their stories so the world would know.

Selected by the School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults 1995, this book is a phenomenal resource for those interested in Holocaust history. Because it covers such a wide range of experiences, I think it could be used in middle and high school as a teaching aid with individual children, or small groups, reading the passage and providing their own expression of the child's experience. Some may argue that middle school age children are too young to read these diaries. The author addresses that beautifully:

To turn our eyes away and refuse to see, or to let children see, what prejudice and hatred lead to is truly to warp our collective psyche...The children teach us, by sharing their own direct experience of oppression, that nothing is more valuable than human freedom. This lesson alone is reason enough to read, and to encourage children to read, these diaries. (p. xx)

TITLE: Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries
AUTHOR: Laurel Holliday
PAGES: 401
TYPE: compilation of Holocaust diaries
RECOMMEND: Excellent book

The second book that I read containing Holocaust narratives Anthology of Holocaust Literature edited by Jacob Glatstein, Israel Knox, and Samuel Margoshes is probably for the young adult or adult student of the Holocaust. Many of these writing have never been translated to English or published in the English language. Therefore, for many of us, this would be the first time to read these personal experiences. The book is arranged by topic: Occupations, Actions, Selections; Life in the Ghettos; Children; Concentration and Death Camps; Resistance; and The Non-Jews. It is possible to read the experiences of multiple people who found themselves in each situation. While some author's names may be familiar, such as Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, and Primo Levi, other authors' names are representative of the people who did not live and shared the same past during the War.

In the Introduction, the editors provide the reader with many definitions of anthology and the various reasons why they have collected these specific Holocaust writings. For me, the most important reason is as follows:
There are many faces to courage, and the will to hope, to maintain the simple dignity of daily existence on a human and humane level, to forge the chain of cultural and spiritual continuity from generation to generation, to cherish children by handing on to them the legacy of their people - to do all of this in the midst of peril and deprivation and omnipresent enmity, is a species of fortitude that borders on the sublime. (p. xx)

To be so strong in faith and hope - to continue in the face of darkness. This is what I tried to glean from each person's personal journey as they were translated in this book. Many of the readings begin and end out of the blue, no real beginnings and no sure end. Often I found that I had to read the entry more than once to grasp the setting and events. Again the editors remind us to consider the following as we read:

One can imagine what it must have cost them to tell their story, to recall the facts and details, the total and terrible drama. Yet it is a story that they could not reporess and relegate to the archives of their own private memory - not for history's sake, nor for their own. (p. xxiii)

This book reminded me of a unique and humbling experiene I had as a graduate student. A friend of mine knew a woman who was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. She was able to come home but was very afraid that she would soon die. She had been at Auschwitz and had never told anyone her story. She did not want to die without telling someone and my friend mentioned that I had an interest in studying Holocaust narratives. I went to her home and she told me her story. The impact hearing her, reliving her fear through her words, and knowing the strength it took for her to say them to me - it is something I will never forget. She did not have to share her story with me, a virtual stranger, but she did and I will be forever grateful.

The following words were found inscribed on the walls of a cellar in Germany where Jews hid from the Nazis:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when feeling it not.

I believe in God even when He is silent. (p. 340)

Next time I sing that song at my Catholic Church, it will hold far more meaning for me. I thank the editors of this volume for bringing it, and the other readings, to my attention.

TITLE: Anthology of Holocaust Literature
AUTHOR: Jacob Glatstein, Israel Knox & Samuel Margoshes eds.
PAGES: 395
TYPE: compilation of original source materials from the Holocaust
RECOMMEND: Excellent book


Kathleen said...

"Children in the Holocaust" sounds like an absolutely depressing must read. I'm surprised I've never heard of it before- my grade school/junior high placed a large importance on learning about the Holocaust and this sounds like something that would have been perfect.

Jew Wishes said...

Children in the Holocaust is a compelling and disturbing book, and one I read and reviewed myself.

To think...the unthinkable...

It is an excellent resource for children.