Tag Archives: holocaust

Seventy Years from Evil

20 Apr

April 15/16 is Yom H’Shoah, the day on which Jews and other victims of the Nazis remember the horrors of the Holocaust.  Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but an additional five to six million people went to their deaths for being gay, political enemies of the Nazis, disabled, Romany, or simply for trying to help their neighbors survive the war by hiding or helping them.  There have been other horrific genocides since then, but the Nazis set the template for the horrors of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

This year, however, is even more important because 70 years ago, on April 15, the most notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz, was liberated.  There will be many commemorations of the event in large part because the remaining survivors will probably not be here for the 75th or 80th ceremonies.

The hardest question many parents and educators ask is when is the right time to start teaching about the Holocaust? The answer will be different for each child.  However, it is safe to say that children under the age of six should be shielded from the information. Some picture books that are not too detailed in the atrocities and focus mostly on the aftermath of the liberation of the camps, may be appropriate at age 8.  Mostly, however, you will want to look at ages 10 to 13 as the earliest age to introduce this subject to your child.

The list of books on the Holocaust, including first person accounts from survivors, is very long.  I could not possibly do a comprehensive list on this blog.  However, for guidance in teaching the Holocaust, check out the following websites:

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial MuseumAttached to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this is the most comprehensive resource for information on the Holocaust.  If you can visit with your older children, it is an unforgettable experience.  You can also access their learning resources at www.ushmm.org/learn.

The National Museum of American Jewish History:  Located in Philadelphia, PA on Independence Mall, this is another arm of the Smithsonian.  You can find out about their resources, including an internet classroom program, at http://www.nmajh.org/Education/ or education@nmajh.org.

The USC Shoah FoundationThis is the organization that was founded by Steven Spielberg after he made Schindler’s List.  Its purpose is to record the testimonies of survivors of the period so that the memories of the victims will be perpetuated.

The Museum of Tolerance: Not only does this resource document the events of the Holocaust, it also works to prevent future events of hatred and even bullying.

This is a partial list of easily available (through your BCCLS.org library) books and films that are appropriate for younger audiences, and adults as well:

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.


I include this because Anne is arguably the most well-known victim of the Nazis.  Her diary, however, ends with her captivity. In addition to the book, which I would suggest for ages 11 and up especially because of the much discussed conflicts between Anne and her mother, there have been several films and plays made based on the diary.  The most well-known film was made in 1959 and directed by George Stevens.  It is probably the most palatable for younger audiences because most of the serious conflict was removed and the love story between Anne and Peter Van Daam, is sweetly innocuous.  It also ends with a hopeful scene of birds wheeling in the Amsterdam sky.  Subsequently there was another American TV version made with Melissa Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie fame playing Anne.  Frankly, this is an inferior version.  The BBC have done at least two productions of the story, the most authentic and effective being  Anne Frank: The Whole Story, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Otto Frank.  It is very well done.  It is also very graphic because it extends the story to time that Anne and her sister, Margot, spent in Bergen-Belsen before dying of typhus just weeks before the end of the war.  There is some mild nudity, but it is the hopelessness of Anne, at this point, that would be very hard for a child to grasp.  I would show this film to teens, ages 16 and up.

The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen.


This was an award-winning book, several decades ago.  In the book, Hannah, a reluctant participant in Jewish ritual attends her family’s Passover seder where she hears oft-repeated stories of the Holocaust victim whose name she carries.  In events similar to the Wizard of Oz, Hannah becomes unconscious and awakes in a Polish village where she befriends her namesake and then is taken to a concentration camp.  Things do not go well for Hannah as she hears the doors of the gas chamber close behind her before she awakens, back home in time for D’ayenu.  There was a TV movie made of this book which suffered from some misguided casting, with Kirsten Dunst playing Hannah. However, the late Brittany Murphy was actually quite good as the Polish girl from the past.

The Extra, by Kathryn Lasky.


This is an important book for teens primarily because it deals with the fate of the Romany (Gypsy) victims of the Holocaust.  A group of Romany inmates including Lilo, a teenage girl, are recruited to help Leni Riefenstahl make movies.  Riefenstahl was notoriously Hitler’s favorite movie maker and as the Romany group discovers, she was both a genius and a monster.  Adults might pursue the subject by reading Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, by Steven Bach.

One Candle, by Eve Bunting.


This is the elusive picture book for younger children, grades 3 to 6.  In this story, a family shares a much-told tale of how a relative celebrated Chanukah in the camps with a piece of salvaged candle that had to last for eight nights.

Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story, by Marci Stillman.


Similar to One Candle, this is the story of nine dedicated women who gather spoons, one for each night, so that they can have a makeshift menorah in the camps. Grades 3 to 6.

The Harmonica, by Tony Johnston.


Based on a true story, this book tells the tale of a young boy who was given a harmonica by his father.  When he is imprisoned in the camps, the music he makes is his solace.  It also attracts the attention of a Nazi officer who commands him to play for him.  That music saved many prisoners is a fact.  This story is recommended for grades 3 to 6.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne.


Bruno’s father receives a promotion that moves the whole family to the countryside.  Bruno is particularly unhappy to leave his friends and home behind.  He doesn’t understand that his father’s reassignment has made him the commandant of a concentration camp.  Bruno goes exploring and makes a new friend on the other side of a barbed wire fence.  The two boys, the prisoner and the commandant’s son, meet frequently and, one day, decide to try a trick of changing places.  It does not end well for Bruno.  This book is frequently referred to as “a fable.”  For me the problem comes in the intended age of the readers, perhaps 11 and up, and the age of the protagonist who is much younger.   There was a well-received movie based on the book if you wish to introduce it in a different media.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-44.


Image via Amazon

There are several books that deal with the dichotomy that was Terezin (or Theresienstadt).  Built on the site of an old Czech fortress, this camp was designed for show, so that visiting dignitaries and the Red Cross would see a lovely village populated by happy Jews.  The camp fronted something far more sinister.  However, while children were interned there, they were able to take classes in art, music and put on performances.  This book is a collection of some of the work the children produced.

Brundibar, by Tony Kushner with illustrations by Maurice Sendak.


This is the beautifully drawn fable of a Czech village.  Aninka [in English Annette] and Pepíček (Little Joe) are a fatherless sister and brother. Their mother is ill, and the doctor tells them she needs milk to recover. But they have no money. They decide to sing in the marketplace to raise the needed money. But the evil organ grinder Brundibár [who represents Hitler] chases them away. However, with the help of a fearless sparrow, keen cat, and wise dog, and the children of the town, they are able to chase Brundibár away, and sing in the market square.  This opera was actually performed in Theresienstadt to the delight of the apparently clueless SS soldiers.

Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin, by Susan Goldman Rubin.


This book covers the years in which the Czech artist, Dicker-Brandeis, was able to help the children of the camp produce art, poems, and stories.  Examples are inculded.

Auschwitz Explained to My Child, by Annette Wieviarka.


As her child turns thirteen, the author, the child of Holocaust victims, decides to explain to her daughter the process of historical events that led from Hitler’s rise to power, through the discriminatory acts perpetrated on the Jews, to the incarceration and murder of Jews in the concentration camps.

Let the Celebrations Begin!, by Margaret Wild.


This is an anniversary edition of the original in which a small boy, imprisoned in the camps, enlists women in the barracks where he lives to make toys for other children who will be celebrating the day of their liberation.

The Flag with Fifty-Six Stars, by Susan Goldman Rubin.


With their liberators on their way, the residents of one concentration camp decide to make a flag to honor the Americans who will save them.  Based on a true story, the determination of the men to produce a flag from rags is awe-inspiring.  Grades 3 to 6.

On this seventieth anniversary, I quote Yehuda Bauer who said, ““Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”   Books and movies can train up a new generation that will not be onlookers or perpetrators, but will help to build a better society for all.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

Lights Among the Nations

2 Apr

This year, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will remember the 12 million people killed by the Nazis during the Days of Remembrance (April 27 to May 4).  Like many Jewish commemorations, this is not a fixed holiday since Yom HaShoah, the Jewish day in which Jews around the world remember the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah follows a lunar calendar.

Many people who wish to introduce the subject of the Holocaust to young people worry about how to approach the subject and at what age.  There are actually picture books for young readers that address the events of the period, and also chapter books such as the award winning, Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry.  However, for sensitive children, even these books may present challenges for caring adults who want to discuss human injustice and intolerance with readers.  Since the 1950s, it is common for young people to first learn the story of the Holocaust by reading Anne Frank’s diary, arguably the most famous document to come out of World War II.

Another way to approach the subject is to talk to children about the good people, the Righteous Gentiles, who saved the Nazis’ targets by hiding friends and neighbors, or helping them escape. By discussing and reading about the heroic saviors of the Holocaust, adults open the door to discuss why people make the choices they do, and what we as individuals can do to prevent aggression and bullying even in our everyday lives.

The following books are mostly for ages eleven and above.  I suggest that any child who reads about the Holocaust also have the opportunity to discuss their inevitable questions so that the lessons of those dark days are not lost.

Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family, by Miep Gies.

Image via Amazon

This adult book would also be suitable for Young Adults, ages 12 and up.  Mrs. Gies was an employee in the pectin factory owned by Otto Frank. When the Nazis invaded Holland, Mrs. Gies, an Austrian citizen, joined several other employees in hiding the Frank family and four other people in a secret apartment hidden behind a bookcase. Mrs. Gies has become synonymous with rescuers for her efforts to feed and protect the Franks, even to walking into German headquarters to beg for their freedom after they were captured.

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story, by Ken Mochizuki.


In the annals of Holocaust rescuers, the efforts of Chiune Sugihara are noteworthy because of his selfless dedication of this diplomat to the people he saved.  Assigned to a Lithuanian embassy during the war, Sugihara came from Samurai stock and took seriously the charge to defend the helpless.  When Lithuanian Jews lined up in front of his embassy asking for passage out of Europe, Sugihara signed exit visas for a solid month without rest and against the orders of the Japanese Imperial government. For his dedication to humanity, he was imprisoned, sent home in disgrace, and lost his career and fortune.  His heroic deeds were not recognized until two decades after the war.

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Survivor, by Irene Gut Opdyke.


As a nursing student in Poland, at the beginning of the war, Opdyke was captured and brutalized by Russian soldiers, only to be later taken as slave labor by the Germans.  In her post as the housekeeper for a Nazi officer, she was able to hide Jews in the officer’s own home, but at a cost.  The officer took her as his mistress in exchange for protecting the people Opdyke was determined to save.  A compelling memoir for Young Adults and adults.

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto, by Susan Goldman Rubin.


Irena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia K. Vaughan.


Both of these books detail the life of a Polish social worker who determinedly saved the children of the Warsaw Ghetto.  Sendler repeatedly went into the ghetto to work with families and arranged for children to be smuggled out in boxes and coffins, and hidden with Christian families.  Her efforts are particularly remarkable in that she hid the names of all the children she saved and the families with whom they were placed so that, after the war, they could be reunited with their surviving families.

The Champion of Children: The Story of Janusz Korczak, by Tomek Bogacki.


Dr. Janusz Korczak dedicated his life to improving the world and living conditions for children.  In 1912, he opened a special orphanage for children that was governed by the children themselves who served on an institutional parliament, a court, and wrote for a newspaper. When the Nazis herded Jews into the ghetto, Dr. Korczak accompanied the children in his orphanage into confinement and, when they were taken to Treblinka, he went with them so that they would be less afraid. He died with his young charges in the concentration camp.

Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, and Greg Salsedo.


This is a brand new entry to Holocaust literature and in a graphic novel format that will intrigue young readers.  It is also a heartbreaking story of a Parisian child who is hidden by neighbors and then by a rural family.  While the child, Dounia, survives the war traumatized but whole, her mother returns gravely changed and her father is killed. Years later, Dounia, now a grandmother, shares the story of her hidden childhood with her own granddaughter.

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, by Karen Ruelle and Deborah De Saix.


This is an important story because it emphasizes the fact that humanity came from unexpected sources during the Holocaust.  The Grand Mosque of Paris, the central place of worship for Paris’ community of North African Muslims, became an unexpected hiding place for Jews during the war. The French Vichy government collaborated with the Nazi invaders, so it was at great peril that Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the French mosque, opened its community to Parisian Jews and hid them on the grounds of the sprawling mosque.

There are many more excellent stories of courageous rescuers in libraries and bookstores.  I would also highly recommend a book called Six Million Paper Clips, by Peter Schroeder and a DVD based on the book called, simply, Paper Clips, that tells the story of a small Tennessee town that helped their children deal with the concept of six million victims by gathering paper clips from around the world.  Ultimately, the town without a single Jewish resident acquired one of the cattle cars used to transport prisoners to concentration camps and turned it into a permanent memorial for all of the Nazis’ victims.

Author N.D. Wilson said, “Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.”  The rescuers of the Holocaust stood against evil because it was right, but often sacrificed their very lives in service to their fellow men.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

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