October 11, 2014

YA Holocaust Literature

When I was in college I did a study on YA Holocaust literature and how important it is for young people to read stories, fiction or non-fiction, about this time in history. I feel that it's important not only for historical reasons, but also to help teens gain empathy, understanding and help them navigate through their value systems. After reading The Book Thief I decided to listen to some classic YA Holocaust audio books that I hadn't ever read or that I hadn't read in a long time and I want to share them with you. For the record, I would give them all 5 stars.

 photo 562282_zps612c7b1e.jpgNight by Elie Wiesel - One of the most popular accounts of an experience in a concentration camp, Elie Wiesel tells his own story beginning with life before the war and ending with his liberation from Buchenwald concentration camp. This memoir is written very simply so that it can be understood by young readers, but its message is universal for all ages. I especially love that when asked to turn this book into a film, Wiesel refused because it would lose its meaning without the silences between the words. I highly recommend Night, but I also stress that there is very difficult subject matter. I don't think you should avoid reading this because of that, but I think you should be aware and prepared emotionally.

 photo 438930_zps18c544ec.jpgUpon the Head of a Goat: A Childhood in Hungary by Aranka Siegal - This novel is one of my favorite books. and I even performed parts of it for a theatre project in college. Aranka Siegal fictionalizes her personal experience leading up to her time in Nazi concentration camps, but all of the events are completely real. I think I remember reading that she only wrote about the time before and after her time in the concentration camps because it was too difficult of material for her to write about for children. Even without writing about her time in Auschwitz, Siegal still captures both the terror of the Holocaust and the triumph of the human spirit through her family. If you enjoy this book, you will also love the sequel Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation.

 photo 47281_zpsbdedf60c.jpg  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry - This book used to actually scare me when I was little and saw it in my classrooms because I was afraid of the little girl on the cover; I didn't even know what the book was about but I never tried to read it. As an adult when I found out it was actually a book about World War II, I read it and was so disappointed I never read it when I was young. This is the only book on my list that is completely fictional as Lois Lowry did not live through the Holocaust. But that doesn't detract from the power of this story of friendship. Annemarie is ten year old in Copenhagan and her family takes in her Jewish best friend, Ellen, to hide. This is a great story of the non-Jews who fought to protect their friends and neighbors and I think it's a great perspective of the good in humanity that prevailed against the evil.

 photo 48855_zps6636e4dd.jpg The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - This is probably the most famous out of the books I'm profiling today. I remember reading Anne Frank's diary in sixth grade and it inspired me to keep a super formal diary of my own, I was so impressed by her writing even though I don't think I quite comprehended the gravity of Anne's situation. Re-reading as an adult put things in better perspective. Even though Anne is unapologetically a stereotypically (let's be honest: sometimes annoying) teenager, her diary truly makes the events in World War II and the Holocaust so much more real than anything else I've ever read. It helps the reader connect the mundane everyday tasks of living with something so important as survival during a time of human extermination. Knowing Anne's fate makes this book so much harder to read, but I'm happy that her father kept her memory and legacy alive for many future generations to learn from.

Are there any historical books that have impacted you strongly?

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