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