Monday, January 18, 2010

Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939 - 1944

Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944 by Aranka Siegal is an amazing story which completes the story of the Holocaust which began in Poland. The author's beautiful dedication sets the frame for her narrative: This book is dedicated to those who did not survive. They are deathless and timeless. Auschwitz could not sever the bonds of love and friendship which contributed to my survival and which will live within me to the end of my days.

The author, known as Piri in the book, lived in the area Hungarian town of Beregsaszy near the Ukraine. As the war began, 9 year old Piri was visiting her Grandmother in Komjaty in the Ukraine. She remained there as the Jews began to feel the restrictions throughout many parts of Europe. Piri was able to return to her home in 1941, but then was faced with curfews and even more restrictions. Ultimately Piri and her mother and siblings must move into a ghetto and finally to Auschwitz in May 1944. Piri and her sister Iboya were separated from their mother and other family members. They never saw them again. The girls worked in the kitchen at a munitions plant and were forced on a death march in early 1945 when the Russian army came closer. The girls were liberated on April 15, 1945. Piri immigrated to the United States in 1948. The author provides wonderful detail about each of the situations.

I found this book very informative and was drawn to the author's story for a number of reasons. When I completed my MA in History, my final paper was entitled Intimacy in the Holocaust Camps and looked at how friendship, love, forced relationships, false relationships, etc assisted the Jews prisoners in survival. This intimacy lies at the heart of Siegal's narrative. Additionally, I have a special place in my heart for the Hungarian Jews who were among the last to be rounded up in Hitler's final solution. These people could have been saved - by people, nations, religious figures, who knew that the Nazi machine was systematically murdering the Jews of Europe. I mean in no way to say the Hungarian Jews were more important - it should have been stopped from the beginning, but as an American and a Catholic, I still feel somewhat sad that nothing was done sooner.

The Book of Life has an interview with the author who discusses her books and her life. It is inspiring to hear her speak about her life. She has a number of other books which I plan to locate and read, including a sequel to this book, Grace in the Wilderness, After the Liberation 1945 - 1948.

TITLE: Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939 - 1944
AUTHOR: Aranka Siegal
PAGES: 214
TYPE: non-fiction, Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND: This was an exceptional book in that it shows the progression of the Holocaust for the Hungarians who were among the last to be rounded up during the war. Excellent book.
AWARDS: 1982 Newbery Honor Book

Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust

Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust by Elly Berkovits Gross is a different sort of Holocaust narrative. The main body of the book is written in short, repetitive chapters. As I first read the book, I was mystified by reading the same story and words over and over. Then I decided to think about it a little more and realized that the chapters were like memories. When I think about something that might have been disconcerting to me, the memories of the event come back to me in waves. And certainly, anything I might have been through is nothing compared to the experiences of the author. Thinking about how memories are manifested, I read many of the chapters again. I realized that the repetitive parts were the hard parts, the parts most difficult to remember yet impossible to forget. Perhaps this is the power of this narrative.

Elly lived in Hungary and while before the war she felt the sadness of anti-Semitism, she and her family were not moved into the ghetto and camps until 1944. The most difficult memory for Elly is her arrival at Auschwitz when she was sent one direction while her mother and brother were sent the other direction. She never saw them again. Guilt and sadness have followed Elly through liberation, immigration and her life. Why did she live? Why did she not call to her mother to join her on the other side? Elly was liberated from the camps on April 14, 1945.

At the end of her narrative, the author includes her works of poetry and an afterword written by her daughter. Although the book was only recently published, the author has shared her story with 60 Minutes and Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation Institute.

In the author's final note, she tells us why she wrote her book:

We hope for a better world. People should live in peace and harmony; there shouldn't be bloodshed between nations. It is very sad that innocents, especially children, suffer because of war. People must learn that hatred and prejudice create only destruction; at the end, there are no winners, only losers. I hope people will take my message to heart.

As I read each Holocaust narrative, it is hope which comes through so strongly that it changes my soul. I wonder what more has to happen for people to learn Elly's lesson?

Scholastic Books provides a Book Talk for Elly.

TITLE: Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Elly Berkovits Gross
PAGES: 125
TYPE: non-fiction, Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND: I really liked this book and it made me think about how memories are reconstructed and the power of writing these memories down for others to consider in their own lives.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Lily Cupboard: A Story of the Holocaust

The Lily Cupboard: A Story of the Holocaust by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim and illustrated by Ronald Himler is a very short children's story which introduces one aspect of the Holocaust. I was learning to read in the late 1950s and the illustrations in this wonderful book remind me of my early reading experiences. At only 32 pages The Lily Cupboard can be easily read by young readers or read to a group of children by the teacher.
Miriam is a young Jewish girl living in Holland in 1940. When the Germans invade the country, many Dutch Jews were sent to camps where they were killed. Miriam's parents arrange for her to go live in the country with a non-Jewish family. Although Miriam is very frightened, she finds some comfort in her friendship with Nello, the young son of the Gentile family. Nello allows Miriam to select a rabbit to care for on her own. The family tells Miriam that if they warn her that the Germans are coming by whistling Frere Jacques she must go hide in the cupboard which had a lily on its front. She will be safe in the cupboard. Miriam does go hide from the German soldiers. She takes her rabbit with her and vows to keep him safe just as her Jewish family and her Gentile family will keep her safe.
The open-ended nature of the book allows for as much discussion as is desired or needed by the children who read it. Was Miriam reunited with her family? How many children were hidden with other non-Jewish families? Why did brave Dutch families take in Jewish children? Why did the children, and adults, have to hide?

The book was awarded the Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. Here is an excellent lesson plan, created by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

TITLE: The Lily Cupboard: A Story of the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Shulamith Levey Oppenheim
ILLUSTRATOR: Ronald Himler
TYPE: fiction, Holocaust
RECOMMEND: The Lily Cupboard is a very short book that seems to be perfectly suited to introduce that while a great many Jewish people did not survive the Holocaust, some did survive with the help of brave friends.