Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tell No One Who You Are: The hidden childhood of Regine Miller

Tell No One Who You Are: The hidden childhood of Regine Miller is the story of a young Jewish girl from Belgium who survived the Holocaust pretending to be someone she was not, or more importantly pretending not to be what she was. As a very young girl, Regine went with her father to political meetings in Brussels called Solidarite. When Jews in Belgium were required to wear the yellow star, Regine's father sewed a red star to the back of her star and believed that when the war was over, they would freely show their resistance to hate by wearing the red star. The hope that she and her father would be reunited to wear these red stars kept Regine going.

At the age of 10, Regine's father was arrested, her brother was called up, her mother was dying from cancer. She went to live with her grandmother, who finally sent her away alone, to hide as an Aryan child. A friend of her father's, Fela, helped make the arrangements. Regine lived with four different families - none of whom realized she was Jewish. Three of the four families pocketed the money, or coupons, they received for her care and provided only the very basic shelter and food. The last family lived on a farm and considered young Regine the daughter they never had.
As the war ended, Regine left the last family to try to find her father and to discover what really happened to her mother and brother. As she met other survivors, Regine did not tell her fantastic journey through the Holocaust. The author suggests a reason for her silence:

Regine did not realize that she was behaving like most of the Jews in Europe who had survived the war. They did not talk about their experiences and they did not ask questions. Whether they had passed through the horror of the death camps or the terror of being caught while hiding, to talk about it was to relive it or cause others to relive it, and release emotions too intense to be dealt with. (p. 161)

In a number of memoirs which I have read, this silence is mentioned as a means of self-protection. I spoke personally with one elderly survivor who had never told her own story, not even to her husband and family. Deep memories which when shared will hopefully remind us of our own duty to remember.

Although it seems that there has not been a Hidden Children Gathering since 2003, the web page Hidden Child Foundation/Anti-Defamation League provides some interesting links and information. Included are three short but compelling accounts of other children who were hidden during the Holocaust:

There is also a teachers guide to be used with these stories and others which might be included.

TITLE: Tell No One Who You Are: The hidden childhood of Regine Miller
AUTHOR: Walter Buchignani
PAGES: 185
TYPE: Biography, Holocaust literature
RECOMMEND: This book is fascinating as it shows the good and the bad in people who had a choice to help children. While many people did assist Jewish children, many took money to help children and withheld food and necessities. The book also contains a small glossary and some factual information on the hiding of children during the Holocaust.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth

The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth is primarily the biography of Simon Wiesenthal who lived through the Holocaust years in a number of concentration and death camps and survived to have a tremendous impact on the post-war world. This excellent work provides a complete biography of Wiesenthal while focusing on one of his more noted accomplishments.

In 1958, Wiesenthal was living in Linz, Austria with his wife and recieved a phone call to come to the Landes Theater. Neo-Nazi teenagers were heckling the actors who were performing the stage version of The Diary of Anne Frank. They said the diary was a fake. After doing some investigating on the group of teenagers, Wiesenthal found that most people in his area agreed that the diary was a forgery, being used to extract more money for survivors. Wiesenthal vowed to prove Anne's existence to these young teens by locating the SS officer who arrested Anne and her family.

As Wiesenthal searches for the officer, the author provides the reader with the reason Wiesenthal was willing to spend so much time on this case. A fairly encompassing biography of the man who spent years of his life searching for, and finding, Nazi war criminals is both sad and illuminating. As is often the case, when Wiesenthal found the SS officer Silberbauer, he discovered that the man worked only blocks from his office in Vienna for the Austrian police force. Although Wiesenthal never spoke with any of the teenagers who disrupted the play, he hoped that they all saw the sensational story on the national news and realized that they were wrong. When asked why he continued with his search for war criminals, bringing over 1,100 to justice, Wiesenthal replied,

When we come to the other world and meet the millions of Jews who died in the camps and they ask us, "What have you done?" there will be many answers....But I will say, "I didn't forget you." (p. 34)

The author provides another more indepth biography of Wiesenthal at the end of the book, along with a small glossary and references for factual information contained in the story. These extra sources of information make this book useful for both literature studies and reference information.

I like to look for lesson plans or useful webpages to allow readers to expand their knowledge or the knowledge of children they teach. In many cases, if you go to the publisher's website, you will find an educator's guide of some sort. Here is a great guide put together by Holiday House.

Another source of information on both Wiesenthal and the Holocaust is the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Also visit the museums or resources affiliated with the Center:
TITLE: The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth
AUTHOR: Susan Goldman Rubin
ILLUSTRATOR: Bill Farnsworth
TYPE: Biography, Holocaust literature
RECOMMEND: I like that this book is based in facts and provides references, which introduces young people to the idea that our factual statements must be grounded in other primary sources. In addition, Wiesenthal is someone who should be recognized for his contributions.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Star of Fear, Star of Hope

Star of Fear, Star of Hope opens with the following three lines:

My name is Helen, and I'm nearly an old woman now. When I'm gone, who will remember Lydia? That is why I want to tell you our story. (p. 1)

Author Jo Hoestlandt then allows Helen to tell hers and Lydia's story. The two girls were nine years old in 1942 and lived in the north of France in the Nazi occupies zone. Lydia was Jewish and had to wear the yellow star. Still the girls were friends. On the night of July 15, the girls were spending the night at Helen's apartment and heard some strange events taking place in the hallway. When Helen's parents came home, they realized two Jewish people were seeking shelter with a neighbor. Helen's father took Lydia home and Helen was angry because it was her birthday. She never saw Lydia again. Helen told her mother that Lydia wasn't born under a lucky star. Her mother replied, Bad luck almost never comes from the stars above, Helen. And this bad luck certainly doesn't. Unfortunately, it comes from people, from the wickedness of some and the weakness of others. Sometimes it can be so hard to live together... (p. 28)

This is the second book in which the date July 16, 1942 is important for the Jewish population of Paris. In my review of Sarah's Key you can find some useful links to the Vel de Vie (common name to the roundup of Jews in Paris on that date).

As always, I like to look for lesson plans or useful webpages to allow readers to expand their knowledge or the knowledge of children they teach. In this case, I located the Educator's Resource Toolkit: Lessons from the Holocaust published in 1998 by the Center for Literacy Studies, University of Tennessee. The pages specific to Star of Fear, Star of Hope are E3, E4, and E5. However, if you get the chance read through the entire publication as it has a wealth of information presented in a well-organized fashion.

TITLE: Star of Fear, Star of Hope
AUTHOR: Jo Hoestlandt
TRANSLATED BY: Mark Polizzotti
TYPE: Holocaust literature
AWARD: Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Book Award - 1995 Award Winner for Younger Readers
RECOMMEND: The beauty of this book is that the child in the book has grown up and is retelling the story and relates the emotional impact of what happened when she was still a child.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Search

The Search by authors Eric Heuvel, Ruud van der Rol and Lies Schippers is the sequel to A Family Secret which I reviewed here. This graphic novel was published first in Dutch by the Anne Frank House in cooperation with the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam. Reading the two books together is a real learning experience.

The Search begins with Esther, who has come to Amsterdam to see her grandson's Bar Mitzvah, greeting the grandson of her old friend Helena. Esther and Helena had been friends during the years of the Holocaust and had been reunited in the first book. While she is visiting Esther decides to revisit the places she hid during the Holocaust and to try to find out exactly what had happened to her Jewish parents. With Esther, we follow the path she took to survival and learn how her parents met their death.

According to one review of the book, the artist uses the European ligne claire style in the drawing of the comics. Artist Craig Terlson has an excellent description of this style on his web page. In addition to the wonderful cartoons, the author includes short snippets in many of the frames which provide factual information which supplement the story line. Maps of war torn Europe and labeled drawings of Auschwitz add to the detailed information presented. The book is not without controversial statements which even adults may have difficulty answering.

Esther tells her grandson about some prisoners who escaped from Aushwitz:

Escaped prisoners told the British and American governments about Auschwitz. But little was done by the Allies with that information. (p. 51)

In the next frame, prisoner Bob sees Allied bombers flying over the camp and asks, Why don't they bomb the gas chambers and the railway lines? (p. 52) Instead the Allies are to bomb the factories. Even today, we cannot understand the answers to these two questions. Why didn't the United States and her Allies do more to stop the killing? While we cannot make sense of what happened, we can remember. Books like this one help us to do just that.

For an interesting article and lesson plan for this graphic novel, read No Laughs, No Thrills, and Villans All Too Real by Michael Kimmelman (New York Times, 29 February 2008). for a more complete description of the award and a list of all winners. The lesson plan which focuses on the novel and the short article can be found here.

TITLE: The Search
AUTHOR: Eric Heuvel, Ruud van der Rol, Lies Schippers
Translated by: Lorraine T. Miller
TYPE: non-fiction, graphic novel
AWARD: Dutch Comics Association's category award
RECOMMEND: In its unique format, this will appeal to many who do not care to read a traditional novel. In addition, the story is told in a very personal and informative way that brings emotions and actions to light.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle was the 2010 recipient of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers. After reading the book, written in free verse, I can understand why the book was selected. Especially when you combine the format with the little known history of Jewish refugees in Cuba.

The colorful and exotic cover art invites the reader to join Daniel, David, Paloma, and Paloma's father in 1940 Cuba. Daniel is a young Jewish refuge from Germany who is among the people allowed to disembark from the large ship in Cuba. The ship was turned away in Canada and the United States. David is an older Jewish man who fled Russia many years before World War II. Paloma is the daughter of a wealthy Cuban who is stuffing his own pockets at the expense of the refugees who have to pay him to come off the ship. The story of these four people is told in alternating poetic verses. David tries to give Daniel advice about living in a new country while Paloma befriends Daniel against her father's wishes. The two young people share sad secrets as they try to reach for their dreams.

Joy and truth both have a way
of peeking through any dark curtain.
(p. 73)

One of the more interesting points made in the book is that many non-Jewish Germans were arrested in Cuba as spies. In many cases, having the J for Jew stamped on the passport saved a person from being arrested. How different from Europe where the J was enough to be killed. The young people hide a husband and wife who would have been arrested. Compassion and understanding are strong components of this book.

TITLE: Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba
AUTHOR: Margarita Engle
PAGES: 198
TYPE: Holocaust fiction
AWARD: 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers
RECOMMEND: I enjoyed the format of the book and am grateful to the author for providing us with knowledge of a little known group of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Behind the Bedroom Wall

Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams is an unusual fictional account of the Holocaust. It is unusual because the main character is a young German girl who is a member of the Hitler Youth Group. She, like many Germans, believed that Hitler was telling the truth about how he planned to lift up the German nation. She thought he was right about the Jewish people. This is certainly a different perspective than found in most Holocaust books.

Korinna Rehme is a 13 year old German girl who lives with her mother and father. She and her girlfriends belong to the Jungmadel, a Nazi Youth group for girls. Although their meetings are fun, the girls are taught Nazi rhetoric and trained to turn in anyone who does not comply with Nazi ideology. Korinna believes that she should be a loyal Nazi until something happens in her life that causes her to question everything. She finds out that there are Jews living behind her bedroom wall. At first, Korinna believes she should turn her parents in, but over time she learns that the mother and daughter living in hiding in her wall are people just like her family. Soon Korinna finds that she and her family must also hide.

The struggles of the young girl are often palpable in the book. I found myself hoping Korinna would make the right decisions. I think today's young people will identify with Korinna on many levels.

Here is a very nice teacher's guide for the book. The guide includes chapter by chapter lessons and vocabulary words.

TITLE: Behind the Bedroom Wall
AUTHOR: Laura E. Williams
ILLUSTRATOR: A. Nancy Goldstein
PAGES: 169
TYPE: Holocaust literature
AWARDS: Numerous state book awards
RECOMMEND: This story is seen from the eyes of a young German girl, so the focus is a little different than normal. Certainly a topic of interest to young people.