Keeping the Memories of the Holocaust Alive

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day to stop and think about the 6 million Jews that were killed during the Holocaust as well as the non-Jews that also died under the Nazi regime. Yom Hashoah has traditionally been a day to listen to survivors, but as the number of survivors is greatly dwindling, there is a need to focus on the books and stories of the period to keep the story alive. Today, the story is getting harder and harder to deal with as we continue to have Jews (and Muslims) killed in or around the synagogue due to their religion. We need to keep the story of the Holocaust alive and fight to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Below are some books for older kids that are helping us keep the story alive.

I was fortunate to get to read Searching for Lottie when I received a copy from the KidLitExchange Network and have been singing its praises ever since. It is the story of Charlie Roth who is doing research on her namesake, Lottie, who went missing during the Holocaust. It is the story of her grandmother, Rose, who is Lottie’s younger sister and who has rarely spoken of her experiences in Vienna and in the war. It is about family connections. It is also a story of Charlie figuring out what she wants to do with her love of music and the violin (Lottie was a prodigy). It is a captivating, inter-generational mystery. This is an important story of how the Holocaust broke up families and the heartbreak of it, but made in a way that it is very readable for today’s youth. I think Susan Ross did an amazing job with this story. I was fortunate to get to read Searching for Lottie due to the KidLitExchange Network and have been singing its praises ever since. It is the story of Charlie Roth who is doing research on her namesake, Lottie, who went missing during the Holocaust. It is the story of her grandmother, Rose, who is Lottie’s younger sister and who has rarely spoken of her experiences in Vienna and in the war. It is about family connections. It is also a story of Charlie figuring out what she wants to do with her love of music and the violin (Lottie was a prodigy). It is a captivating, inter-generational mystery. This is an important story of how the Holocaust broke up families and the heartbreak of it, but made in a way that it is very readable for today’s youth. I think Susan Ross did an amazing job with this story.

We received Roller-Coaster Grandma: The Amazing Story of Dr. Ruth as it was coming out last year from Behrman House as a part of an educators book program I am in. I will admit that until today I hadn’t read it. But my younger daughter has read it multiple times. While it doesn’t look like it from the front cover, this is actually an amazing graphic novel telling of how the woman we all know as Dr. Ruth escaped from Nazi Germany at age 10 on a Kindertransport, but lost her whole family. It is also the story of her determination to get an education for herself by sheer grit, resilience, and strength. The story is told as flashbacks inspired by a trip to the amusement park with her grandchildren. The pages in full color are the story and the pages in sepia are her history. I wish I had read this sooner, it is brilliant!

When I first heard that they had made a graphic novel of The Diary of Anne Frank, I wasn’t sure what to think. This is the seminal tale that most people read sometime in junior or senior high school. For many, it is shockingly one of the first times they learn about the Holocaust and Anne Frank is the second most common name when people think of that tragic event. I still think it is a book that needs to be read in it’s original format. That said, I think that this adaptation by Ari Folman is excellent. Actually, when he was approached to do this book, he wasn’t sure about it and had “grave reservations.” There are times when it looks like normal graphic novel format of minimal text, but there are also times when the reader sees complete diary entries. He captured the emotions of what was happening in the secret annex and the fear the Nazi regime brought to so many people. Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is one that shouldn’t be missed, but also shouldn’t take place of the original.

Hana’s Suitcase is a book that I had heard about, but never really took a look at since it didn’t make sense for it to resonate in my life in 2003. It is the biography of a Czech girl who died in the Holocaust, told in alternating chapters with an account of how the curator of a Japanese Holocaust center learned about her life after Hana’s suitcase was sent to her. The thing that this book shows really well is that until 1938, their family didn’t feel concerned by the growing hatred toward the Jews. It was something that wasn’t in Czechoslavakia yet and they weren’t religious Jews (something very common at the time). By interspersing that with a group of school children learning about the Holocaust in 2000, there is a strong sentiment to not let the story be forgotten. Kirkus reviews put it perfectly – “Levine successfully incorporates the two stories: a bleak story of a young girl’s pointless suffering and death at the hands of fellow humans, the other a hopeful one of children, a world away in space and time from the events that deprived Hana of her future, who vow ‘never again.'”

One of the books on the 2019-20 North Carolina Battle of the Books list is The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club, by Phillip Hoose. We weren’t sure what this book was going to be like, but the general consensus so far is that it is absolutely amazing. It is the true story of a group of Danish teens who started the resistance to the Third Reich in Denmark. Ashamed and angered by their parents apathy, for five months these teens waged their own war against the German soldiers by doing the little things that they could, often in broad daylight. This is a powerful book for 12-18 year olds to understand that they can fight back and that what they do matters. This book got starred reviews in School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus reviews when it was first published in 2015.

Alan Gratz has become one of the best young adult authors regarding WWII history. His book, Prisoner B-3087, is a fictional story based on the life of Jack Gruener.  Gruener survived 10 different concentration camps and 2 death marches and somehow lived to tell the story. This is a hard book to read and shows the horrors of the concentration camps, but it is just as important as the story of Anne Frank because he survived and can tell the other side of it. This is a survivor story and because so many of our survivors are now dying of natural causes, its impact is especially strong.

Another true story that has gotten a slew of accolades is The Librarian of Auschwitz, by Antonio Iturbe. This tells the story of Dita Adlerova and her time in the “family camp” at Auschwitz. Dita is put in charge of protecting 8 books that had been smuggled into the camp and had to be hit from the SS guards. At the same time, she has become aware that Dr. Mengele, aka Doctor Death for the experiments he liked to do on prisoners, has been watching her. This story, though fictionalized, does a painful, yet amazing job of illustrating what life was like inside the barbed wire fences of Auschwitz. As Publisher’s Weekly said, “Iturbe interweaves the names and stories of other survivors and victims of Auschwitz, turning the narrative into a monument of remembrance and history. All but guaranteed to send readers searching for more information, this is an unforgettable, heartbreaking novel.”

Michael Bornstein’s story of his own survival of the Holocaust was written in the pages of the book Survivor’s Club. Bornstein was 4 years old when Auschwitz was liberated in 1945. While he obviously didn’t remember a huge amount, Bornstein and his daughter spent countless hours researching and interviewing people for information. This book tells of what life was like in a Jewish ghetto, the cramped neighborhoods that Jews were forced to live in in Poland and Germany. His impetus to write the book? His own picture was being used on websites that denied the Holocaust ever happened. It did happen. Through the research that Debbie Bronstein did, they found that of the 3,400 Jews who lived in Zarki, Poland, only 30 survived the Holocaust. That definitely puts it in perspective.

As the survivors continue to dwindle, it is our responsibility to teach our children and the world that the Holocaust really did happen. History might repeat itself if we don’t and we are, frighteningly, already seeing the signs. No one deserves to be treated like this and all religions have a seat at the world table. Shalom

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