Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hiding Edith: A True Story

Edith Schwalb was only six years old when she and her family fled from their home in Austria to Belgium. As Jews, they were trying to find a safe place to live. By March of 1943, Edith's father had been arrested twice and her mother had to make a decision. Mutti sent Edith and her younger brother Gaston to live in a small town in France - Moissac; to live with strangers. But Mutti was convinced her youngest children would be safe. And they were. For a time.

Kathy Kacer shares this story with us in her book Hiding Edith: A True Story. There are two things that are amazing about Edith's story. The man and woman to whom Edith and her brother were taken were members of the Jewish Scouts of France and they provided a home for hundreds of Jewish children whose parents were either frightened or missing. What makes this a unique story is that all the townspeople knew the children were Jewish and instead of turning them it to the SS, they protected the children. After the war, all but one of these children was alive.

Even so, it was not only the townspeople of Moissac or Shatta and Bouli Simon that kept Edith safe. When it became so dangerous that the children could no longer stay in the house Shatt and Bouli found each one of the children a safe place to go and they left one at a time for their new homes. After the war ended, Edith returned to the home in Moissac to care for orphaned children.

For more information on the Jewish Scouts of France, click HERE.

Also, this book, published by Second Story Press, is A Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers. You can view other titles in this series HERE.

TITLE: Hiding Edith: A True Story
AUTHOR: Kathy Kacer
PAGES: 151
TYPE: Holocaust narrative, non-fiction
RECOMMEND: It seems that many of the books I have read recently have been about the rescue of Jews in France. Because most of my studies focused on Eastern European Jews, I am very glad to be learning about the experiences of Jews from other areas. This book is quite interesting and the photos provide another layer of education. The author did an excellent job in telling the story of Edith Schwalb Gelbard.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?

Author Nancy Patz visited the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. While she was there, Patz saw a woman's hat, alone on display in a glass case as part of the Museum's Holocaust display. She drew the hat in her sketchbook and continued on her tour. Later, looking back on the visit, Patz saw her drawing and wondered about the woman who had worn the hat. Over time, Patz drew more pictures and wrote individual poems reflecting on who the woman was who had worn the hat. She soon realized that together the poems created a reflection of the woman, and through her, other victims of the Holocaust.

The book includes an extensive author's note at the end, as well as a Chronology of the Holocaust. The author includes her own drawings with actual photographs incorporated into the drawings - this is an excellent method of making the imagination blend into reality. It also allows for young children to think about the woman at whatever level they are capable of understanding. Here is a brief section of the poem:

I wonder
if she wore it
the day she left home the last time,
that cold, cold day in Amsterdam -
that cold, cruel day in Amsterdam
when the Jews were herded together
and arrested in the Square. (p. 10)

This small book was the 2003 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers. This award is given yearly to books which have outstanding Jewish content for children and teens. Visit the Association of Jewish Libraries for a more complete description of the award and a list of all winners.

TITLE: Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?
AUTHOR: Nancy Patz
TYPE: Holocaust narrative, non-fiction
AWARD: 2003 Sydney Taylor Award
RECOMMEND: I can see many thoughtful uses of this slim meditation, both in the classroom and as a personal reflection.

A Family Secret

With the Anne Frank House in cooperation with the Resistance Museum of Friesland, this graphic novel by Eric Heuvel was originally published in Dutch The work was translated to English by Lorraine T. Miller. With eight to nine panels per page, this graphic novel moves along quickly and is similar to Maus by Art Spiegelman.

The story begins on April 30, which is celebrated in the Netherlands as Dutch Queen's Day, where people have fun buying and selling secondhand items. Jeroen goes by his Gran's house to see if she has anything to sell. Looking in her attic, Jeroen finds an old scrapbook that his grandmother made during World War II. As Gran remembers, she shares a family secret with Jeroen. The book is full of historical information on the Nazi machine, collaborators, resistance efforts and life during the war.

There is a sequel to this book entitled The Search with Gran and her friend Esther visit areas where Esther hid during the war. I am going to try to locate this book next!

TITLE: A Family Secret
AUTHOR: Eric Heuvel
TRANSLATOR: Lorraine T. Miller
TYPE: Holocaust, fiction, graphic novel
RECOMMEND: I really enjoyed this book. For me it was my first graphic novel other than Maus and I found it to be very well done and extremely readable and informative.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Angel Girl

Unfortunately this book is a little difficult to review. In addition, it is possible that even if you wanted to use it in your research or classroom you might not be able to locate a copy. As I read the book, knowing it was based on a true story, I found it odd that I remembered hearing something about this exact story recently. So I went to trusty Google and did a search for the title and author. Publisher's Weekly published the following on December 30, 2008:

Upon learning that the widely publicized Holocaust love story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat, which inspired the picture book Angel Girl, is not entirely true, Lerner Publishing Group announced yesterday that it would pull the book from shelves. Lerner imprint Carolhroda Books published Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman in September 2008. The house has canceled all pending reprints and is issuing refunds on all returned books. The company is no longer offering the book for sale and is recalling the book from the market.

So, you may wonder why I am bothering to review the book at all. For the author! Not that I know her, but she wrote the book believing that the story was true. And if it were true, it would be a powerful story. So she deserves credit for writing the book. In case you are wondering, she is not the only one who was fooled. A major motion picture company was making a production of the man's story when he finally told people that the story was not entirely true.
So what is the story. A young boy goes with his mother to a concentration camp where he is separated from his mother who tells him in a dream that "an angel will save you." The angel came in the form of a young peasant girl who threw food to him over the camp enclosure. Ater being liberated the young man travels to America where he meets and marries the same girl.
So it was an unlikely story, but one that held hope and love at it's core. Unfortunately the fact that it is based on a lie makes it very difficult to use or appreciate.

TITLE: Angel Girl
AUTHOR: Laurie Friedman
TYPE: Holocaust narrative, written as non-fiction
RECOMMEND: It has a happy ending but is not true, so I just don't know what to say.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hidden Child

While it will not be the last book I find written about this specific topic of Holocaust survival, it is the first for me to review. The author, Issac Millman, relates his experiences in France during the Holocaust. In a unique format which blends narrative with softly drawn mosaic illustrations sprinkled with photographs, the book is powerful in its emotion and child-like honesty. Because both indepth narrative and simple illustrations are used, the books is appropriate for a wide range of readers.

Issac Millman was only seven years old when his country, France, was invaded by Hitler's army. His father was arrested a year later and sent to a internment camp. He and his mother lived alone with the help of neighbors for another year and then attempted to escape to Free France. They were arrested and imprisoned. Except for the assistance of a friendly guard, Issac would have met the same fate as his mother and father who did not return at the end of the war. Issac was taken to a hospital where he pretended to be ill until he could be sent to live with someone safe. As in most life situations, safe was a relative term. Ultimately Issac was protected by a kind and caring Christian woman. After the war, Issac was adopted by a family in the United States.

After almost fifty years of silence, Issac Millman decided to tell his own story. He reminds us of what was lost and what was gained. Most of all, he urges us to remember.

TITLE: Hidden Child
AUTHOR: Issac Millman
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: A rare story of a child who was hidden by Christians during the Holocaust.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival

Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival by Clara Kramer is an amazing story of survival. In addition to surviving with 17 other people in the dug-out basement of a house for 18 months, fifteen year old Clara (at the insistence of her mother) kept a written record of their day to day lives, the fears and sorrows, and the joys. The details of living under such stress are the moments which make this such a compelling story.

As if living under a house in a crawl space dug out with your own hands is not enough, it is incredible who lived above them in the house. Initially the house was inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. Beck who were both German. Before the war, Julia Beck has served as a maid for Clara's family and she convinced her husband, who was known to be anti-Semetic, to allow the families to hide under their house. In addition, the house was inhabited by Nazi trainmen and Nazi soldiers. Many times, the Jewish families lives were saved by only seconds of time - time to hide, time to eat, time to cry. After the war Clara and her family returned to their own home which became a gathering place for the mere fifty surviving Jews of the 5,000 who had lived in Zolkiew Poland before the war. I was stunned, but not terribly surprised, by Clara's statement after her return to life:

From the stories the survivors told us, I realized we had it better than most. (p. 310)

Still, for me, the most poignant paragraph in the book was written in Clara's diary near the end of the war, with the enemy in the rooms above them and the Becks under suspicion:

Tuesday, 9 May 1944. You could think that a person who looks into the eyes of death as many times as we do would get used to it. But it's the opposite with us. The more we are in danger of dying, the more we are frightened. One wants to live no matter what and no matter how. Every day we look death in the eyes and every day has its own history. If at least we had a verdict, a time, how long we will suffer. We are sitting here and we don't even know if it's for nothing. (p. 262)

To continue on day after day, not knowing when it would end - or how it would end had to have been such an emotional strain and yet these 18 people survived. Ultimately Julia and Valentine Beck were honored at Yad Vashem in Israel. The Beck's daughter, Ala, who lived in the house with the eighteen survivors for most of the war came to the service and planted a tree in the Garden of the Righteous. And Clara - she tries still to live her life worthy of the Becks and her sister Mania who died trying to escape the basement during a fire. She considers her work on Holocaust education a large part of her obligation to these people she loved so much.

Harper Collins provides the reader with the following message from the author (this is also in the book):
To the Readers of Clara's War
Writing this book was like walking out of my kitchen door in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and straight into my home in Zolkiew. Although the events in this book happened over 60 years ago, they have never left me. As with many survivors, I relive them in the present. I am 81 years old, and I am one of the lucky ones. Ever since the day I left the bunker, I have done my best to live a worthy life. I have dedicated myself to the teaching of the Holocaust. The privilege of surviving comes with the responsibility of sharing the story of those who did not. Everything in this book is as I lived and remember it, although I have taken the liberty of reconstructing dialogue to the best of my recollection. I have also used the spelling and names most familiar to me. During the 18 months I spent in the bunker, I kept a diary which today is in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There was little light and less paper and only one nub of a pencil to write with. I documented as much as I could in my diary, but although I often spoke about my life, the idea of writing about it never occurred to me. Thank you (to my cowriter) for encouraging me and for taking this journey with me back to Zolkiew. And thank you for capturing my life so beautifully on paper. I am so grateful that my great-great-grandchildren will be able to meet those of us who came before.

From my memory to theirs, and to yours—

Clara Kramer
{accessed at http://www.harpercollins.com/author/microsite/news.aspx?authorid=35107&newsid=5447#5447}

And here is a YouTube video made by the author.

TITLE: Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival
AUTHOR: Clara Kramer
CO-AUTHOR: Stephen Glantz
PAGES: 339
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: A moving story of heroism and determination.
AWARDS: 2010 Sophy Brody Honor Book

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Cat with the Yellow Star

Fate is an interesting thing. I ordered this book from our Interlibrary Loan department without really knowing the story. Of course, I knew it was a Holocaust book for children, but I was wonderfully surprised when I realized that this book was written by one of the Girls of Room 28. (I reviewed this book a short time back.) Room 28 was a room at the Children's Home at Terezin, a holding camp or ghetto in Czechoslovakia. A key element in both books is the children's opera Brundibar. I also reviewed a children's book retelling the opera Brundibar. But back to fate, when I got the book, I flipped through the 40 pages and found a page of photographs - the page looked almost like a yearbook page with fourteen photos of young girls - Handa, Eva, Hanka, Marianne, Lenka, Anna, Helga...I knew them all! It was like seeing photos of friends from middle school. I was elated to know these women through these stories. And very excited to read another book about their blessed experience during the Holocaust.

In some ways, Cat with the Yellow Star, written by Susan Goldman Rubin with Ela Weissberger, is a more intimate look at the experiences of the girls of Room 28. Maybe it feels that way because the words are crafted for a younger audience and therefore feel like a story shared by only a few. I am so thankful that Ela shared her story and photographs with Susan. It was interesting to learn that the women who were caretakers for the girls of Room 28 made sure the children learned their manners and kept clean in an easily overwhelming environment.

Ela starred as the cat in the children's opera Brundibar. She talks, as did the previous author, about the importance of these artistic endeavors for the children of Terezin. I knew that the Nazis had promoted Terezin as a model camp and invited the International Red Cross to view how well the Jewish people were taken care of. I did not know that the children performed their opera for the Red Cross in June 1944. Apparently the Red Cross believed what they saw in 1944. They learned the truth about Terezin when the camp was turned over to them by the Nazis on May 3, 1945. This is when Ela was liberated.

Still this was not the end of Brundibar. Fifteen of the children of Room 28 survived the war and since 1986 they have joined one another once a year to enjoy talking about their lives. Ela continues to hear her beloved opera - performed by children all over the world. After one such performance on December 7, 2003 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center - Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Ela spoke to the audience:

Sixty years ago we performed this opera at Terezin. Only a few of us survived. I lost many of my friends. But when we were performing Brundibar, we forgot where we were, we forgot all our troubles. Music was part of our resistance against the Nazis. Music, art, good teachers, and friends meant survival.
(p. 35)

Holiday House provides a wonderful Educator's Guide for this title.

TITLE: The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin
AUTHOR: Susan Goldman Rubin with Ela Weissberger
TYPE: Holocaust narrative, non-fiction
RECOMMEND: I learned a lot from this small book and the images included are very interesting. It certainly could be used in conjunction with Brundibar. I really liked this book.