Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as designated by the United Nations. It marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. Seventy years ago, the conquering Red Army discovered the largest of the concentration/death camps, and the public began the impossible task of processing the horror and atrocity that was the Holocaust.
As I began researching this post I was struggling to find the best way to frame it, while doing justice to the subject matter and the memory of the more than six million people who died as a result of Nazi policy. I discovered that perhaps the best way to remember, and learn, is to simply listen.
Weezy-Jean, 8 years old, asked me what I was reading about and thus began a lengthy dinner conversation outlining the horrors of the Holocaust. It was through her eyes that I realized for children to grasp the nature of the Holocaust there needs to be a human connection. The concept of six million people was simply impossible for her to process, her shock that people allowed this to happen was incomprehensible, and the idea that no one stopped Hitler was ludicrous. The numbers, dates, locations, technicalities – none of this could possibly help her wrap her head around the Holocaust.
So I told her a story. “Is it true?” she asked. “Yes, I said.” About a little girl named Syvia, who wore a yellow star, and at 4 years old had to leave her home and live in a ghetto. About a boy name Elie, who survived, and became a writer to share his story. About Anne, who died, but whose voice has echoed through the decades, loudly and clearly reminding the world that she was here.
To honor the victims of the holocaust this Remembrance Day, take time to listen. Hear their voices, one by one, as they share their struggle. When you close the book, remember the 6 million more voices that were silenced. Their stories and gifts were stolen from our world. The survivors give voice to the victims, and if we listen, we guarantee they will not be forgotten.
Yellow Star – by Jennifer Roy. “In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children. I was one of the twelve.” This excerpt is from an interview with Sylvia Perlmutter, Jennifer Roy’s aunt. Roy alternates historical contextual information with Sylvia’s story, which is told in prose. Yellow Star illuminates the shocking, painful reality of life as a Polish Jew in the Lodz ghetto where Sylvia lived for five years. (MR-4/5)
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – For two years Anne and her family hid from the Nazi’s in Amsterdam. Her diary of their time in hiding is honest and heartbreaking, both concerning mundane daily life and the horrors of her situation. When the Nazi’s raided the “secret annexe” in August, 1944 everyone was sent to concentration camps and Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in March, 1945. Her father, Otto, survived and first published Anne’s diary in 1947 For nearly 70 years it has honored her memory, and given voice to the millions who died. For more information on Anne Frank’s experience, to see photos and maps of the secret annexe, and to discover what Anne’s diary looked liked visit the Anne Frank House website. (MR/YA-6 and up)
Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank – by Eva Schloss. Eva was just one month older than Anne Frank, and lived in the same neighborhood. They were acquaintances, but not close friends. They both went into hiding in 1942. But where Anne’s diary ends, and her subsequent death robs us of the rest of her story, Eva’s story continues. Sharing her traumatic and painful experiences of hiding, discovery, transport, and eventual survival of Auschwitz-Birkenau we discover what so many endured and so few survived. A remarkable story of luck, determination, and strength of spirit. Highly recommended to be read along with Diary of a Young Girl. (MR/YA – 6 and up)
Night by Elie Wiesel. At just a little over one hundred pages, Night tells Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel’s story of forced transport from his home to Auschwitz, the loss of his family, and the deterioration of the human spirit. As a teenage survivor of the Holocaust, Wiesel shares his experience in terrifying detail. He also bears witness to the atrocities, testifying to the horror and using his voice to proclaim that this must never happen again.
A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal. Only ten years old when he was separated from his parents in Auschwitz, Thomas attributes his remarkable survival to street smarts and an enormous amount of luck. These are his recollections of the harrowing life of a Jewish child in Nazi era Europe. After the war he became a human rights lawyer, and attributes the influence of his childhood experiences in directing his area of expertise. Buergenthal eventually sat as the US judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin. I’ve attempted to focus on the first-person voices of children of the Holocaust, but I’ve included Fireflies in the Dark because of the artwork within, as it speaks volumes about the young residents of the Terezin concentration camp. When art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis packed her bags for deportation to Terezin she took what was most essential to her – the art supplies she would need to continue teaching the Jewish children in the camp. For nearly two years she used art to keep hope alive, to create a safe place to express the impossible emotions the children were feeling, and to help them escape the dim reality of their existence in Terezin. Upon liberation of Terezin, one of Friedl’s students discovered over 5000 drawings created by the children. It is through their artwork that we are able to hear the voices of these children, bear witness to their experience, honor and remember them.(PB – age 8 and up)
To hear more voices of the Holocaust visit The USC Shoah Foundation, which has an online database of audio-visual recordings of survivors stories.
For additional information visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC