Monday, December 28, 2009

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944 is a compilation of poems and drawings by children who were imprisoned at the camp during World War II. Originally edited by Hana Volavkov, the second edition was expanded by the United States Holocaust Mermorial Museum. This newer edition also includes a foreword by Chiam Potok and an afterword by Slovak president Vaclav Havel.
According to Volavkov, approximately 15,00 children under the age of fifteen came to Terezin during the war years. Only approximately 100 of these children survived the war. Many of the children who lived in this prison, called a ghetto, spent part of their days creating art and poetry under the teaching of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Just like most of her students, Ms. Dicker-Brandeis died at Auschwitz.
The editor has matched the children's drawings with poems and diary entries to provide the reader with a rich experience of the lives of these children. At the end of the book, the biography of each writer or artist is provided. For most of the children, the end came at Auschwitz - leaving only their work behind to tell their stories. Here is the title poem:
The Butterfly
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhgaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone.
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
in the ghetto.
4.6.1942 Pavel Friedmann (p. 39)

Here is a link to a lesson plan which can be used with the reading of these poems and provides information for the Houston Holocaust Museum Butterfly Project. It is also possible for students to visit the Terezin Memorial Mueum for a virtual tour.

TITLE: I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944
AUTHOR: Hana Volavkova, editor
PAGES: 106
TYPE: non-fiction, Holocaust
RECOMMEND: I think each person can read each poem and get a different picture of the lives of these children and gain a high appreciation for the artist who dedicated herself to children who needed an outlet of expression.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up In The Holocaust

I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson is her personal narrative of her life during the Holocaust. In the summer of 1943, Elli was thirteen years old and lived with her family in a small farming town near Budapest. The Jewish population was ordered to stop attending school or going about their daily business - they were to wear the yellow star. Finally in April 1944, Elli and her family were sent first to a ghetto and then to Auschwitz. After an awful time in the death camp, Elli and her mother were sent to Augsburg as part of a work force. Although the experience in Augsburg was better than the death camp, it was short and Elli and her mother were transported to Dachau where they were reunited with Elli's brother Bubi. Finally the family was liberated from cattle cars by the Americans on April 30, 1945. The soldier who spoke with Elli thought she was sixty-two years old when she was only fourteen. Elli writes, I am fourteen years old, and I have lived a thousand years. (p. 205) In 1951, the family immigrated to America.

Each Holocaust narrative has something special to give to the reader. In this case, I believe that Ms. Bitton-Jackson has answered a question I frequently hear - People ask why I am drawn so strongly to the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. In the foreward to her book, the author writes:

My hope is that learning about past evils will help us to avoid them in the future. My hope is that learning what horrors can result from prejudice and intolerance, we can cultivate a commitment to fight prejudice and intolerance. It is for this reason that I wrote my recollections of the horror. Only one who was there can truly tell the tale. And I was there. My stories are of gas chambers, shootings, electrified fences, torture, scorching sun, mental abuse, and constant threat of death. But they are also stories of faith, hope, triumph, and love. They are stories of perseverance, loyalty, courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and of never giving up. My story is my message: Never give up. (p. 11)

I think this is why I am drawn to the Holocaust narratives - the universal ideas of hope and survival, the intimate relationships that sustained people through horrible times.

TITLE: I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing up in the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Livia Bitton-Jackson
PAGES: 234
TYPE: non-fiction, Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND: I think the author has shown a wide range of experiences during the later years of the war, from the ghetto to the transfer from camp to camp as the Allied forces came closer. Excellent book.

Escaping into the Night

Escaping into the Night by D. Dina Friedman is a fictionalized story of the experiences of some members of the Jewish resistance movement in the area of Belorussia. The author states that she tried to stay true to the actual events that occurred and I believe she did a wonderful job. In fact, I already knew a bit about the Bielski Brothers partisan movement and was surprised at the end to find that this book was fiction - I desperately wanted to know the fate of the characters who became very real to me while reading the book.

Halina Rudowski escapes from a Polish ghetto with her friend Batya and three brothers who are to serve as their protectors as they try to make it safely to the forests and the partisans who are living there. The experiences of these well-detailed characters can be rather brutal at times and may frighten some younger children. In the forest with the partisans, life is not much easier for the young people who live underground and must run from the Nazis more than once. In the end, the Russians do assist the Jews who have survived the forest.

One passage that moved me greatly was the following with one of the older women in the forest encampment speaking to Halina who has lost her father and mother and needs strength to go on:

"We don't talk about the past," Tante Rosa said quietly. "We must live for the present, for each day. At night sometimes, after the girls are asleep I lie awake and think about my husband and the time before the forest. But I can't speak of these things. When I see the sun rise in the morning, I put my hand on the trunk of a tree, and think only about what I have to do to stay alive for one more day." (p. 76)

I think this "not talking" about the past continued for the survivors for many, many years. I personally was priviledged to hear the Holocaust narrative of a sixty-five year old woman who had never shared her story with anyone, even her husband and children. Still, it is only in the sharing that we who were not there can know, can understand, can continue the fight.
On the author's website, you can read the background information that led her to write this book and find links to other information and teaching resources.

TITLE: Escaping into the Night
AUTHOR: D. Dina Friedman
PAGES: 195
TYPE: fiction, Holocaust
RECOMMEND: I liked this book and think it can be used very nicely with non-fiction accounts of life in the ghettos or partisan camps

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark

This is a lovely children's book, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Henri Sorensen. Deedy tells the story of King Christian X of Denmark who was instumental in protecting the majority of the Danish Jews during World War II. The story of the yellow star begins with the Nazi edict that all Jews must wear the star. The Danes considered themselves all Danish, not separated by religion or culture. They knew that in other parts of Europe Jews who wore the yellow star often disappeared and did not return. According to Deedy's book, the King wondered how to hide the stars.

"If you wished to hide a star," wondered the king to himself, "where would you place it?" His eyes searched the heavens. "Of course!" he thought. The answer was so simple. "You would hide it among its sisters." (p. n/a)

You can of course guess what his idea was - if everyone one, Jews and non-Jews, including the King wore the yellow star, how could the Nazis decide which people to take away? In a short author's note at the end of the book, the author tells us that this story of King Christian X is a legend which she has been unable to authenticate. Finally, the author asks us:

What if it had happened? What if every Dane, from shoemaker to priest, had worn the yellow Star of David? And what if we could follow that example today against violations of human rights? What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying, "You cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well."

What if? (pp. n/a)

Peachtree Publishers provides a wonderful collection of resources for teaching using this book. You can access the pdf version of the resource here. The Holocaust Teacher Resource Center offers a good lesson plan for this short book and other books as well. You might like to check this out if you a planning a lesson. The book has won numerous awards and is an Accelerated Reader Level 3.7 book for children.

TITLE: The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark
AUTHOR: Carmen Agra Deedy
TYPE: Holocaust fiction
RECOMMEND: Excellent book

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Yellow Star

Jennifer Roy first learned her Aunt Syvia's Holocaust story almost fifty years after Syvia had been liberated from a Nazi camp, one of only twelve Jewish children who survived the Lodz Ghetto in Poland. Ms. Roy knew immediately that she wanted to tell the story to others. After a number of attempts, she decided to write the story in first person verse. She states:

When my aunt recounted her childhood to me, she spoke as if looking through a child's eyes. She made her experiences feel real, immediate, urgent. In the poetry of a survivor's words, this is Syvia's story. (p. n/a)

This memoir in verse is divided into five distinct parts, based on time periods during the War. The author provides brief historical facts about the period as it pertains to her aunt's family and other Jews in Poland and all of Europe.

The author provides free downloads for educators. Pre-Reading, Language Arts, Social Studies, Art/Music, Math, and Discussion Questions. Although our library has the book listed as Grade 4-8, I think that most portions of the book could be read to or by even younger students. The free verse is beautiful and true to the young girl who lived this life from age four to ten. While the story is often horrifying, I believe it is a story we all need to hear. Here is just a small sample of the story:


is the color of

the felt six-pointed star

that is sewn onto my coat.

It is the law

that all Jews have to wear the

Star of David

when they leave their house,

or else be arrested.

I wish I could

rip the star off

(carefully, stitch by stitch, so as not to ruin

my lovely coat),

because yellow is meant to be

a happy color,

not the color of

hate. (pp. 7-8)

Ultimately, the yellow stars on their coats help in the rescue of Syvia and her family. What a wonderful tribute to one child's Holocaust narrative.

TITLE: Yellow Star
AUTHOR: Jennifer Roy
PAGES: 227
TYPE: poetry, Holocaust memoir
RECOMMEND: Excellent book

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Children in the Holocaust and World War II

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 rea, 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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saving What Remains: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim her Ancestry

Saving What Remains: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim her Ancestry by Livia Britton-Jackson is a remarkable voyage through the bureaucratic entanglements and emotional upheavals experienced by the author as she returned to post-war Communist Czechoslovakia to locate and retrieve the bodies of her Jewish grandparents who had died more than fifty years earlier. Her husband, Len, who did not speak the languages of the country stood by her side and helped as she navigated through all of the necessary bribes and steps to successfully taking their bodies to Israel. Her determination is remarkable and through her efforts a monument to the past shared lives has been created for all of her family.

TITLE: Saving What Remains: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim her Ancestry
AUTHOR: Livia Britton-Jackson
PAGES: 196
TYPE: non-fiction, biographical

While this book only touches on the author's Holocaust experiences, the emotions of Britton-Jackson certainly remind us of the past and remind us to mind our futures.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Woman in Amber

I think perhaps that I have owned this book for quite some time and if I have read it before, I don’t remember it – I find this highly unlikely. At any rate, I am honored to have read it now. A Woman in Amber by Agate Nesaule is a startling memoir of the author’s childhood experiences during the Russian and German occupation of her homeland of Latvia. While the horrors of the war were bad enough in her own country, her Lutheran father and mother, along with other family members, were forced to flee from the competing armies. Their journey was remarkable in complexity and perhaps luck.

As I read her accounts of war, I wondered what the appropriate age level would be for this memoir. The scenes described are brutal and difficult to think about or discuss. The author solved my problem in two ways. First, as a new immigrant to the United States, she learned English by reading tremendous works of literature. Her teachers questioned whether she was old enough to read such works. Her life experiences and understanding of the beauty and sorrow of the world made her absolutely capable of reading Anna Karenina at 10 years old. Second, I would like to share some of her final words in the book:

But the world is full of pain. Anne Frank, Heidi, and Hilda are dead, but Kurds still freeze on the hillsides, Bosnian women have to live on after rape, Rwandan children stand waiting, too emaciated to beg….But then the sun touches the blossoms again. We have to believe that dreams are meaningful, we have to believe that even the briefest human connections can heal. Otherwise life is unbearable. (p. 280)

So I think any child interested in learning about human pain and human healing should be able to absorb the richness of the story that Nesaule was finally able to tell. She endured the war, shameful indignities at the hands of Americans, a disastrous marriage, and finally through therapy and trust, Nesaule has given us her story; a unique memoir of the horrors of World War II. The other part of her equation of survival and hope is education. Early in her life, she learned from poet Karlis Skalbe that, The riches of the heart do not rust. (p. 121) To the Latvians, this meant that even if you lost every material thing, family, and country – no one can take away that which has been learned. In spite of near constant fear and depression, Nesaule completed her Ph.D. in Women’s Literature and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

While you will need to read the book to understand my final comment, I am very happy that she reconciled with her mother, if only in a dream. Sometimes dreams represent more clearly our reality.

TITLE: A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile
AUTHOR: Agate Nesaule
PAGES: 280
TYPE: memoir, World War II
RECOMMEND: Stunningly beautiful book with so much we need to hear and learn.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Always Remember Me

Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo is a lovely picture book that gently tells the stories of the author's family during the War. It begins:

Sunday is the most important day of the week in my family, the day we gather for dinner at my Oma's.

And so begins the story of a young girl, Rachel who visits with her grandmother and aunts each Sunday. One day Oma decides to show Rachel all of her family history - a history she has not shared before. It is the story of the Holocaust and how Oma and her three daughters survived to be reunited in the United States.

Russo provides the reader with a soft, gentle introduction to the horrors that were the Holocaust. As Rachel and Oma look at photo albums, the album ends as grandmother remembers the concentration camp and her eventual liberation. The story does not stop, but returns to the family after the war. Young Rachel will always remember.

On her website, the author shares that this book began with her painting small pictures from her grandmother's old photos. She realized that she wanted to write a book that went with the stories. The book contains images of both the original photos and the artist's renderings. There is also a brief historical note at the end of the book, as well as a small glossary

TITLE: Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II
AUTHOR: Marisabina Russo
TYPE: non-fiction, biography

Friday, March 6, 2009

Anne Frank: Child of the Holocaust

Anne Frank: Child of the Holocaust (The Library of Famous Women series) is a wonderful companion book to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. With additional pictures and details from Anne's life, this book shows how Anne lived before and during the war. There are also historical highlights which firmly place Anne, her family, and her friends in the horrible place and time where their world was frightening and awful. Still the love of these family members and friends shines through in this short biogrpahy.

The book also includes a short glossary, a brief list of references, and an index. These make the book even more useful for research purposes.

TITLE: Anne Frank: Child of the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Gene Brown
TYPE: non-fiction, biography
AWARDS: Many different Best Books awards

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Cats in Krasinski Square

This is a book about a girl; a picture book about a very brave Jewish girl passing as Aryan who helped to get food and supplies to the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. The tale focuses on one very small event where the young girl and her sister and friends trick the Nazi guards to smuggle needed supplies to the over-crowded Ghetto. The Nazi dogs trained to sniff out food are foiled when the resistance members release all the Ghetto cats! This book could be used with young children as a lesson in bravery. Because the author provides factual information in the back of the book, it could also be used with older children as a means of introducing the Resistance movements. Illustrator Wendy Watson did a beautiful job with conveying subtle meanings to enhance the story.

TITLE: The Cats in Krasinski Square
AUTHOR: Karen Hesse
TYPE: fiction, based on historical events
AWARDS: Sydney Taylor Book Awards Honor Book 2004 Older Readers, ALA Noteable Book for Children 2005