I don’t have to say what a terrible period Nazi Germany was.It was a time we are not allowed to forget. It is important to remember in order to prevent something similar.
When I was in school, this topic was part of the curriculum every other year–and it was (I don’t want to say it, but…) “boring”. The second world war and all its terror were often reduced to numbers and facts, to alliances and long political speeches, to images of destruction.and world maps. I know, the topic itself cannot be boring. Nothing so terrible can be, but the lessons always were because the connection to the people was missing. Thankfully, we have books that show us what (at least) my teachers failed to do: That there were people, single individuums who suffered, not just numbers, not just names, but people with feelings, thoughts, and hopes. And so I’ve started to read some fiction and non-fiction about this period again.
(1) Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
- pages: 156
- publisher HMH Books for Young Readers; Auflage: Reissue (2. Mai 2011)
- recommended age: 10 – 12
As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family.Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war. (Amazon)
I really enjoyed that the book focuses on the Jewish population of Denmark. It is just incredible how they saved so many Jews. Annemarie was a lovely character. Her thoughts, her actions, her questions – everything was really appropriate for that age and for the target audience. I just didn’t like much that some part of the story were a bit to children book chlichè-y. Since I don’t want to spoiler , I just say: the cat and the incident with the mother near the end. I expected more fantasy from such a great author – but all in all, it is a really good book.
(2) Maus by Art Spiegelman
- pages: 296
- publisher: Penguin; (2. Oktober 2003)
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.(Amazon)
This graphic novel was just breath-taking good. I couldn’t stop reading. The art and the story were a perfect combination. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic characters give the reader food for thought. It is so interesting that the Jews are pictured as mice (but only the head, the body is still human), the Polish as pigs, etc. – and I think it is just great because things that are unseen are suddenly made visible. In the end, it is a great way of showing that the people back then weren’t (sadly) seen as one human race.
(3) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.
It is a must read in my country and so I read it when I was terribly young – too young to actually understand it. Now I’m re-reading her book and are surprised how honest, intelligent, and brave she was. It is not only a book about the horrific event back then, but also a kind of coming of age story. She was just about 13 when she started writing her diaries, but she did it with such a rigour and openness, especially with regard to her own feelings.
(4) Once & Then by Morris Gleitzman
- pages: 163
- publisher: Square Fish; (19. March 2013)
Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic or
phanage. The only problem is that he doesn’t know anything about the war, and
thinks he’s only in the orphanage while his parents travel and try to salvage their
bookselling business. And when he thinks his parents are in danger, Felix sets off to warn them–straight into the heart of Nazi-occupied Poland. To Felix, everything is a story: Why did he get a whole carrot in his soup? It must be sign that his parents are coming to get him. Why are the Nazis burning books? They must be foreign librarians sent to clean out the orphanage’s outdated library. But as Felix’s journey gets increasingly dangerous, he begins to see horrors that not even stories can explain. (Amazon)
Honestly, I just read Once and I’m not sure if I’ll read Then someday. I just couldn’t connect with this book and I don’t know why. Am I too old to appreciate Gleitzman’s portrayal of a simpleharted boy or is Felix just annoyingly blind for the things that happen around him?. Every – and I mean it – every single meeting with soldiers or experience with murder or anti-Semitism are covered with stupid little excuses or stories in Felix’s mind . Very often it is just a misunderstanding, or the soldier ‘didn’t know’ that he was just a boy so he just got nearly shot by accident. It annoyed me so much that I was glad when I finished the first part. Unfortunately my book contains ‘Once’ and ‘Then’ so probaly I’ll give the latter a second chance but not this year.
The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas by John Boyne
(I’ve watched the film quite recently and the ending nearly broke my heart…)
Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Every man dies alone) by Hans Fallada
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelly
Which book would you recommend?