Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Friend Called Anne

A Friend Called Anne: One Girl's Story of War, Peace, and a Unique Friendship with Anne Frank provides young readers with yet another unique look at the life of Anne Frank. The remembrances of Jacqueline van Maarsen, as written by Carol Ann Lee, enhance our knowledge of Anne's life before the Holocaust. Additionally, because Jacqueline's father was Jewish while her mother was Catholic, Jacqueline's experiences during the war in Amsterdam were different from many of the survivor stories that we read.

Jacqueline and Anne were very best friends and when Anne went into hiding, diving under as it was known in Dutch, and Anne was sad to leave her friend behind. Once settled in the Secret Annex, Anne wrote a letter to her friend Jacqueline on September 25, 1942:

Dear Jacquleine,
I am writing this letter in order to bid you goodbye....Later, of course, you will be able to tell people that you had a farewell letter from me....I hope that we will always stay best friends until we meet again. Anne

Unfortunately, the two friends never met again. Anne knew that she could not send the letter to her friend, so she placed it inside her diary. During the war, Jacqueline's mother managed to convince the authorities that her children were good Catholics by removing their yellow stars and taking them to church whenever possible. This act likely saved their lives. After the war, in June 1945, Mr. Frank visited Jacqueline and gave her not one, but two letters, written to her from Anne. After the Diary was published, it was apparent that Jackie was Jopie in the diary and many people wanted her to comment on her friendship with Anne. Still it was 1986 before Jackie wrote about her friendship with Anne and the terrible experiences during the Holocaust.

A timeline of Holocaust events, especially in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, concludes the book.

TITLE: A Friend Called Anne: One Girl's Story of War, Peace, and a Unique Friendship with Anne Frank
AUTHOR: Jacqueline Van Maarsen, retold by Carol Ann Lee
PAGES: 163
TYPE: non-fiction, memoir
RECOMMEND: I liked this new and unique perspective on the life of Anne Frank, as well as the Holocaust experiences of the author.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Anne Frank: Hidden Hope

Anne Frank: Hidden Hope by Rita Mullin is one book in the Sterling Biographies series. Mullin introduces the biography stating, Anne Frank's diary has helped people the world over to understand the impact of hatred on its victims and has opened dialogues in classrooms and government halls about the awful price of prejudice. Her story is as moving - and her words are as relevant - today as they were more than a half-century ago. (p. 1)

Mullins herself may make Anne, her family, and her life even more relevant and moving by her selection of a wide variety of facts, photographs, and images that supplement the readers' previous knowledge of Anne from her diary. One thing that I found interesting, and did not know before reading the book, was that Anne had an American penpal. Her name was Juanita Wagner and she lived on a farm in Danville, Iowa. The two exchanged letters in the fall of 1939 and April 1940. After Germany invaded the Netherlands, there was no more correspondence.

While I did not find any specific lesson plans for this book, I can think of a few myself. It might be interesting to look at Anne's diary and the information provided in this book and compare the two. Another interesting activity might be to visit the website Anne Frank Tree which is an interactive site focused on the chestnut tree behind the Secret Annex. Anne mentioned it in her diary. You are asked to put in your name and location and leave a message if you like.

The author also includes a glossary, bibliography, and index to assist the reader.

TITLE: Anne Frank: Hidden Hope
AUTHOR: Rita Thievon Mullin
PAGES: 124
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: Many books have been written about Anne Frank, but I found this one a bit different - with images and photographs that enhanced the well-known biography.

A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, hero of the Holocaust

A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, hero of the Holocaust by Alison Gold provides a more in-depth look at Sugihara's story that was initially told in Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story (reviewed March 8, 2010) by Ken Mochizuki. For early elementary students who have read the Mochizuki book, Gold's book will be a perfect follow up with details of the life and courage of Sugihara as well as the poignant stories of families who were survivors.

To briefly review Sugihara's story: Against orders from his Japanese superiors, Sugihara issued visas for over 6,000 Jews for travel through Russia to Japan during the WWII years. He did this as part of his service as the Japanese diplomat to Lithuania. He wrote these visas by hand, he wrote them day and night, he wrote them because he could not bear the idea of the suffering of these innocent people. He was removed from the post and along with his family, he was sent to an internment camp in Russia as the war ended. After returning to Japan, he was removed from diplomatic service in disgrace and his youngest son died from complications due to the harsh conditions of the camp. Because of his heroic actions over 40,000 Jewish people owe him their lives. He could have become depressed over all he had lost, instead, he was perhaps bolstered by the Japanese saying Shiimbo shiite seiko suru - success comes through overcoming adversity. (p. 167)

The book is informative and honest. The author interviewed Sugihara's wife and son, as well as a number of survivors with Sugihara visas. The author also drew heavily on written materials from both the family and the survivors. Here is a poem the author included. It was written by Sugihara's wife Yukiko:

The train pulls away,
hands reaching out the window
Passing out visas
Hands reaching towards the windows
for visas for life --
Hope (p. 99)

PBS has a film entitled Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness (2005). Visit the PBS website to view a trailer for the film, an interactive timeline of Sugihara's life, additional readings and videos, and teacher resources. Although this seems to be aimed at older students, I suspect it could be modified to a lower grade level. One thing that I found interesting was the discussion of Boshido, traditional samurai values, which were part of Sugihara's upbringing on his mother's side of the family.

Another interesting website is Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats. This non-profit organization was originally created to honor Sugihara, and has now been expanded to include any diplomat who saved Jewish people during the Holocaust.

TITLE: A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, hero of the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Alison Gold
PAGES: 176
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: A very inspiring book, should remind us to do the right thing in all circumstances, without regard for the negative consequences.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Good Liar

The Good Liar by Gregory Maguire might serve as an introduction to the use of primary resources when researching a topic. The book begins with three young girls sending a letter to an older gentleman they see on television. The girls know he came to America from Europe and he seemed to be old enough to have been their age during the war. They ask if he could tell them about World War II. Marcel Delarue, our narrator, responds with the story of his childhood.

Fat Marcel, as he was called, grew up in Mont-Saint-Martin, France with his Maman and two brothers, Pierre and Rene. The year was 1940 and France was being occupied by the German army. Before the occupation, the brothers (who were Roman Catholic, like most French people) spent their time playing and trying to see who could tell the biggest lie. But then, the war came much closer to them. Uncle Anton came to their home from Paris, bringing a Jewish woman and her daughter who hid in the house until they could safely escape. The boys had one more thing to lie about. Then they became friends with a German soldier - and the lies got bigger and bigger. If you want to know how the story turns out, you will need to read the book.

As a mother (and a Catholic, I might add), I was not overjoyed with the idea of using lying as the main focus of the book. It is implied that Catholics lie, which I found very strange. As a reader and a human being, I realize that we all tell small lies from time to time - to not hurt feelings, or to protect someone. I also realize that young people might see this in an entirely different way, especially if their involvement with the book is led by a teacher.

Here is an interesting interview with the author discussing his experiences writing The Good Liar.

The Good Liar: A Teaching Guide provides an excellent five unit lesson plan for reading and interacting with the book.

TITLE: The Good Liar
AUTHOR: Gregory Maguire
PAGES: 129
TYPE: Historical fiction
RECOMMEND: This was not my favorite fictional work about the Holocaust. However, it did show the tense interactions experienced by the locals during occupation.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hiding to Survive: Stories of Jewish Children Rescued from the Holocaust

The number of Jewish children who were hidden during the Holocaust is estimated to be somewhere between ten thousand and five hundred thousand. The range is so vast because there are no records of the children and rescuers who were caught and killed by the Nazis. Nor is it known how many children survived by hiding but have preferred to keep their story private. In any case, it's guessed that about 1 percent of the Gentile population in Europe hid Jewish children. (p. 5)

Maxine Rosenberg's Hiding to Survive: Stories of Jewish Children Rescued from the Holocaust is another book which came out from the 1991 international conference for hidden children which was held in New York City. Rosenberg offers fourteen first person narratives based on interviews with Jewish children who were hidden in Greece, Belgium, Poland, Holland, Hungary, Lithuania, and France. Each adult interviewed tells a different childhood story of being hidden during the war - they all have one thing in common - survival. And while 1 percent of the population which hid these children may seem small, for these specific children it meant the world.

The book begins with a brief and concise history of Hitler's rise to power and his march through Europe with the intent of killing all of the Jewish people and others deemed unimportant. This history sets the stage for the individual stories. Each story begins with a photograph of the individual from sometime before or during the war and ends with a current (early 1990s) photograph. In some cases, a photograph of the rescuer is also included. The stories vary widely, but all must have been very traumatic for the children who were often separated from their families abruptly and, in most cases, did not know the new family or people they were to live with. To further complicate matters, both the children and their rescuers were scared - scared they would be turned in to the Nazis and killed. When asked why they risked their lives, and the lives of their own family, to rescue Jewish children, most replied, I only did whqat I'd hope another human being would do for me (p. 8). If only we all always observed the Golden Rule of do unto others!

The author also includes a glossary and a short bibliography.

Standards-based Activities with Scoring Rubrics: Performance-based projects by Jacqueline Glasgow contains an excellent activity for this book which will engage students with the children who survived during the Holocaust. You can view the entire activity and rubric from Google Books at the link above.

TITLE: Hiding to Survive: Stories of Jewish Children Rescued from the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Maxine R. Rosenberg
PAGES: 166
TYPE: Holocaust narratives
RECOMMEND: The stories presented in this compilation provide compelling evidence that what Anne Frank believed - that people really are good - was at least true for the population of people who risked their lives to save small children from the Holocaust.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rutka's Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust

Oh, good Lord. Well, Rutka, you've probably gone completely crazy. You are calling upon God as if He exists. The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butts of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death...It sounds like a fairy tale. Those who haven't seen this would never believe it. But it's not a legend; it's the truth. Or the time when they beat an old man until he became unconscious, becaue he didn't cross the street properly...The end...When will it come?... (pp. 22-24)

These words were written on February 5, 1943 by 14 year old Rutka Laskier who has come to be known as the Polish Anne Frank. During the months when Rutka wrote her diary entries, she lived with her family members in the Bedzin ghetto in south-western Poland, near Krakow.

I learn something new with each book that I read on the Holocaust. I was amazed when I read the diary entry quoted above. This was 1943. Rutka was in a camp in Poland. They KNEW. They knew that humans were being systematically murdered. Rudolf Vrba* and Alfred Wetzler were the first Jewish prisoners to escape from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944. They told officials in the United States, Great Britain, and Rome the truth about the gas chambers and murders. How in the world did Rutka and her group of young people know with such conviction a year earlier? And, of course, the question then becomes - why go to their certain deaths? I know the answer, but it breaks my heart.

According to Rutka's friend, 20 year old Stanislawa Sapinska (in whose house Rutka and her parents lived - the Germans forced the Sapinskas to move out of the ghetto), Rutka was well informed of the course of the war and the status of the military forces, as well of the fate of the deported Jews (p. 2). Stanislawa also indicated that she believed Rutka had contact with the anti-German underground. During her time in the ghetto Rutka told Stanislawa that she felt she would not survive the war and that she would hide her diary under the staircase and hoped that Stanislawa would retrieve it after the war. The ghetto was liquidated in August 1943 (although it is believed that Rutka left in April 1943 and was sent to Auschwitz and murdered shortly thereafter) and Stanislawa kept her word to her friend. She kept the diary hidden for sixty years, taking it out to read on occassion. When she was eighty years old, she decided she should give the diary to the world and presented it to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Here is a picture of Rutka's Christian friend on the day she presented the diary to the world:

*(If you would like to read about Vrba and Wetzler's experience, read I Cannot Forgive by Vrba. It is excellent.)

To read the article which went along with the photo, click here. There is also an insightful 2007 interview on NPR. The article includes some excerpts from the diary.

TITLE: Rutka's Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Rutka Laskier (1929-1943) and Daniella Zaidman-Mauer (editor)
TYPE: Holocaust diary and commentary
RECOMMEND: This book is an excellent resource. In addition to the diary, the reader is provided with considerable discussion on the significance of this young girl's written words. A nice bibliography is also included.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Erika's Story

I was born sometime in 1944.
I do not know my birthdate.
I do not know my birth name...
What I do know is that when I was just a few months old, I was saved from the Holocaust. (p. 1)

This is the beginning of Erika's story. She was thrown from a train to by her parents to escape the Holocaust. Author Ruth Vander Zee was traveling in Germany in 1995 when she met Erika sitting outside a tornado demolished building. Vander Zee allows Erika to tell her story through this book - with words and pictures. Erika wonders how her parents felt as they threw her to an uncertain future, hopefully to live instead of to die. As she ages, Erika marries and has children of her own. She reminds us that it was once said that my people would be as many as the stars in the heavens. Although six millions stars fell during the Holocaust, Erika's star is still shining and I am glad she shared her story with first Vander Zee and the now the world.

The illustrations are beyond wonderful. In fact, all but a few resemble photographs, although one can see that they are not. These "photographs" are all black and white or muted blue tones. The only colors are the yellow stars worn on the chests of the people in the cattle car and the pink blanket wrapped around the young baby girl. The emphasis created with this use of color is haunting. The cover (seen above) is also quite interesting with a black and beige background with a cut out star in the center which has a yellow background. Behind the star is a fence with the German word VERBOTEN, which means forbidden. A very powerful mental picture.

The author provides a Teachers' Resource Guide with a very nice assortment of materials for use with students.

TITLE: Erika's Story
AUTHOR: Ruth Vander Zee
ILLUSTRATOR: Roberto Innocenti
TYPE: Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND: The book is so simple, yet powerful in its simplicity. The illustrations alone are stunning and combined with the narrative the book is an excellent resource.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Eli Remembers

Eli Remembers written by Ruth Vander Zee and Marian Sneider is illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. The story is based on Sneider's grandson, Ely Sandler, who took a trip to Eastern Europe to learn more about how his family had lived before and during the war.

Each year when his family gathered for Rosh Hashanah, Eli noticed that his great-grandmother lit seven candles and was sad. After she died, Eli's grandmother continued the tradition with the same sadness. When Eli asked his mother why it made the family sad, he was told some things are too difficult to talk about. (p. 5) When Eli was a bit older, his grandparents and parents took him to Lithuania to see when his family came from before the war. Near the end of their trip, the family traveled deep into the countryside to Ponar Forest. Walking into the forest, Eli finds a very large pit. His father tells him:
This is the grave of 80,000 Jews who were killed during World War II. They were force-marched night after night by the Nazis and ordered to stand around this pit. Then the soldiers shot their backs.

This is where his great-grandmother's father and six siblings were killed. Young Eli leaves seven roses in the pit in remembrance. He also tells his family that this will no longer be a secret because he will always remember. Just like his family did by lighting the seven candles.
The illustrations, from the cover to the final pages are hauntingly beautiful. The author also provides a brief historical note at the end of the book.

The publisher, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, provides a Teacher Resources guide with activities. This resource guide can be downloaded and printed.

TITLE: Eli Remembers
AUTHOR: Ruth Vander Zee & Marian Snieder
ILLUSTRATOR: Bill Farnsworth
TYPE: Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND: I think this book can be used to illustrate the fate of Jews outside of the concentration camps as well as a remembrance for the 80,000 who died in the Ponar forest.
AWARDS: Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People (2008)