Monday, April 8, 2013

Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's celebrated on the 27th of Nissan (although if that falls on Sunday, like it does this year, it's celebrated on the Monday.) It was chosen to mark the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Not the start of the uprising, because that's Passover, but a date during the uprising, nonetheless.

There's no shortage of books about the Holocaust. Here are some excellent ones.


Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport. Working chronologically through the war, Rappaport outlines ways Europe's Jew's rebelled and resisted. Minor details-- keeping religion alive in the camps. Major incidents-- partisan camps and armies in Europe's forests. Some are well known-- smuggling children out of the ghettos, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, some aren't. Not only does it give agency to the Jews that much literature denies it, but it also tells a different story about the Holocaust, and about WWII in general-- something that I wasn't sure was still possible.

The Diary of Petr Ginz by Petr Ginz, edited by Chava Pressburger, translated by Elena Lappin. In 2003, Israli astronaut Ilan Ramon took one of Petr's paintings, Moon Landscape, with him into space. On February 1, 2003 (Petr's 75th birthday) the shuttle Columbia exploded. After hearing the story, a homeowner in Prague realized that the hand-bound diaries he had found upon moving into the house must be those of Petr Ginz. His sister (Pressburger) recognized them right away. In addition to his journals, it includes Ginz's writings and drawings. Pressburger's introduction gives context. Petr's diary is not the introspective writings of a captive Anne Frank. He is a boy full of life, documenting his day to day activities as life becomes ever more restricted.

Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn, translated from the Yiddish by Jeffrey Shandler. This is one of the first books about the Holocaust ever written, published in 1940 to let Jewish-American kids know what was happening in Europe. In 2006, it became available in English for the first time. Vienna in the late 1930s. Karl's father is long dead his mother has just been taken. He runs to his best friend, Emil's house. Emil's Jewish-- they haven't seen each other lately. Emil's father was taken away by the men, too. Emil and Karl are orphans in a city gone mad, where no one knows who they can trust or what's going to happen next. Most books about the Holocaust are about the tension, the waiting, the hardships. This is a horrific madhouse hallucination of a city turned on its head. It takes the same confusion and horror, but tells it in a way I've never read before in a holocaust story. This is aimed at a younger audience, but the mind-boggling horror and impact is saved for an older reader who knows the history. The author doesn't know what will happen next, how bad it's going to get, but the reader does.


Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle. The main voice in this verse novel is Daniel, a Jewish teenager from Berlin, whose parents could only afford to get one person out, him. They said they'd meet him in New York, but his ship wasn't allowed to land in New York and ended up in Havanna. Paloma is a Cuban girl who helps the Quakers with the refugees. Her mother ran off to Paris with another man, her father charges huge fees and bribes for entry visas and then sometimes rejects the ship anyway. Her father has a few poems, too. The last voice is David, an old Ukranian Jew who fled to Cuba decades before.

Ten Green Bottles: The True Story of One Family's Journey from War-torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan. A little known part of the Holocaust is how many Jews escaped to Shanghai, a foreign port that didn't require entry papers (just an exit visa to get out.) This is the story of the author's mother, a teen in Vienna whose family was able to get to Shanghai. But getting the Shanghai isn't enough, because the Japanese control the city and they force the Jews into the Hongkew ghetto, where they're not allowed to leave. Even when the war ends, it's not enough, because China's still in the middle of a Civil War. Written for adults, this is one teens will enjoy and should read.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Death narrates this tale of a small girl in Munich in WWII. Death is serious, and funny, and really sick of war. He's not a big fan of humans, and usually doesn't notice them, but he notices Liesel. Liesel is sent to Munich as a foster child. She knows her mother is giving her up for reasons that have something to do with Hitler and that her dad was a Communist. In Munich, she makes unlikely friends and learns to read from a stolen book. There is power in stealing books. There is power in reading.


Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This is the story of children growing up in Germany and Europe during Hitler's rise to power and reign. Children who were exuberant and reluctant members of the Hitler Youth, children who joined the resistance movements, Jewish children, soldier children. The amazing thing about this book is that it tells the story plainly and truly, with no sugar coating and no melodrama.

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman. This is a ground-breaking, now-classic work about the Holocaust. Told in graphic novel format, with different nationalities and races shown by different anthropomorphic animals, and tells the story of Spiegelman's father. This was published for adults, but one that teens often read, and should. This is a boxed set that includes both parts.

The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day by Elie Wiesel. Night is frequently assigned in schools, but for a good reason. This highly autobiographical account tells of a teen at Auschwitz. It's followed by two other short novels about the Holocaust in this omnibus edition.

What titles do you think are must-reads for teens about the Holocaust?

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