Teens and Young Adults Read the Holocaust
Young adult novels continue to plumb events that took place during the dark days of the Shoah. Fortunately, the tales—often based on actual events—concentrate on Jewish heroism rather than victimhood. The following titles will inspire mature high school students as well as adults. This year, Yom HaShoah falls on May 2.
Mapping the Bones By Jane Yolen (Philomel Books, 417 pp. $17.95)
Jane Yolen spins the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel—gingerbread house, witch’s oven and all—into the story of twins Chaim and Gittel. In Mapping the Bones, the remarkably prolific author traces the tragic odyssey of the courageous siblings from the Lodz Ghetto to the forest stronghold of Polish partisans and then to a cabin in the woods. Chaim and Gittel are eventually imprisoned in the fictional Sobanek labor camp, where thin-fingered Jewish children make bullets for German guns while ovens burn, and where Gittel, in a flash of daring, saves her brother’s life. The happily-ever-after ending arrives with their rescue by American troops.
The story is interspersed with Gittel’s thoughts and Chaim’s poems. “To die was easy,” Chaim writes, “to live was harder.” Indeed, in Yolen’s unflinching narrative, both life and death are fraught with anguish.
What the Night Sings Written and illustrated by Vesper Stamper (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 272 pp. $19.99)
Vesper Stamper’s heart-stopping historical fiction centers on 16-year-old Gerta, a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, who must confront her past and plan her future in the aftermath of World War II. A gifted child singer and viola player, she was unaware of her Jewish heritage until she and her father were picked up by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz. After her father is murdered there, Gerta seeks refuge in a displaced persons’ camp, where she is torn between the passionate attention of two young survivors. Lev, who is Orthodox, wants to take her to his home in Poland; charismatic Micah tries to persuade her to accompany him to Mandate Palestine. Gerta chooses Lev, and after they marry, they return to Kielce, the site of a notorious postwar pogrom. In the end, they flee to the Land of Israel to escape the hatred they encounter there. She knows that she is launched on a new beginning in a place where her talent will be nurtured and her freedom assured.
Stamper’s haunting and elegant monochromatic drawings enhance her poetic narrative.
Resistance By Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Press, 400 pp. $17.99)
Teenager Chaya Lindner, whose fair features enable her to pass as an Aryan, becomes a courier for Resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Poland and smuggles life-saving supplies and weapons into besieged ghettos. For Chaya, who penetrates the Warsaw Ghetto at the height of its uprising, “the only point of the Resistance is to save lives.” Jennifer Nielsen’s vibrant voice gives truth to the book’s assertion that “a righteous Resistance was victory in itself, no matter the outcome.”
My Real Name is Hanna By Tara Lynn Masih (Mandel Vilar Press, 208 pp. $16.95)
The word Ukraine means “borderland,” and the country is where 14-year-old Hanna Slivka is trapped between the conflicting borders that define love and hatred, friendship and enmity, as cruel German forces occupy her hometown of Kwasova. Hanna, her family and friends flee Gestapo troops, seeking refuge in the surrounding forest and sheltering in an underground cave—eventually tunneling to safety beneath the earth itself. Through it all, Hanna sustains and encourages her small community until the Germans are defeated and she can proudly say, “We still smile. We are still alive.”
A fluid writer, Masih effortlessly integrates the nuances of both Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, even as she creates a world in which small acts of kindness become feats of courage.
The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazis By Neal Bascomb
(Scholastic Press, 245 pp. $9.99)
Young readers will revel in the daring in this true story of the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the notorious SS officer. The efforts of dedicated Mossad operatives and the information provided by Lothar Hermann, a blind Argentinian lawyer, and his daughter, Sylvia, are presented with drama and accuracy. Neal Bascomb describes the maze of streets and safe houses in Buenos Aires used by Mossad as well as the clandestine meetings on airplanes and in scattered offices throughout the world. Especially important is the insistence by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, that Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem be both a moral and an educational experience, “the first time that the Jewish people will judge their murderer.” Photos, maps and drawings are valuable additions to an expertly told tale.
Gloria Goldreich’s new novel, After Melanie, will be published in May by Severn House.