- The Best Books About The Holocaust (Fiction & Nonfiction)
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- My Mother's Ring: A Holocaust Historical Novel
The Jews are increasingly segregated from society, their children pulled out of the schools, their shops vandalized and their homes ransacked. If occasionally, compassionate adults are to be found, they, like the narrator, are largely helpless. The boys' teacher, Herr Neudorf, appears sympathetic toward Friedrich when the boy is told he must henceforth attend a Jewish school. Neudorf bids him an affectionate " Auf Wiedersehen ," but then, in an ironic twist, "with quick steps [he] hurried to the front of the class. He jerked up his right arm, the hand straight out at eye level, and said, ' Heil Hitler!
All are blindly obedient, none seemingly aware of the hypocrisy. Eventually, the narrator finds himself caught up in the mass hysteria of the program and, before he realizes it, he is swinging a hammer and smashing glass and whatever else comes in his way: "I felt so strong!
I could have sung I was so drunk with the desire to swing my hammer" When the narrator finally does take decisive action, it is mindless submission to mob pressure. He continues in this destructive rampage until "All of a sudden I felt tired and disgusted. On the stairs, I found half a mirror.
The Best Books About The Holocaust (Fiction & Nonfiction)
I looked in it. Then I ran home" The broken mirror reflects the fragmented self.
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At home he weeps with his mother. But his disgust and these tears cannot redeem him in our eyes; they only underscore the failure of the narrator and his family to effect any meaningful change in German society. When, the narrator accidentally discovers a rabbi hiding in the Schneiders' apartment, he knows that it is his duty to turn him in to the authorities. However, the narrator has not totally lost sight of his responsibility to his friends, and he faces an ethical conflict.
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This conflict disables him, and his inability to cope with this dilemma is characteristic of the confusion of the times:. Herr Schneider, the rabbi, and Friedrich all looked at me. I didn't know what to do. The rabbi was a stranger to me. And what about my mother and father? Didn't they stand closer to me than this Jew? Might I endanger myself and them for the sake of a stranger? Would I never give myself away? Would I be able to bear the secret or would I suffer under it like Herr Schneider? His exclamation of ignorance simply means he is unable or unwilling to make the difficult ethical choice.
He lacks the courage of any conviction of right or wrong—the very antithesis of Annemarie. The ultimate failure of the narrator and his family comes when, during an air raid, Friedrich, who is now seventeen and driven into the streets, is denied a place in the shelter by his former landlord. The narrator and his parents sit by silently and watch Friedrich's eviction from the shelter.
He is killed in the ensuing air raid. The narrator's reporting of these tragic events is almost numbly dispassionate, which is almost more disquieting than the violence of the act itself. The narrator and his family are given no names; one critic refers to him as the "everyman narrator" Bosmajian, "Narrative Voice" Certainly he is intended to represent the typical German of Third Reich , too defeated by economic exigencies to confront the political system that has found a way to feed him and his family, too intimidated by an increasingly powerful police state that dares to mold the minds of the youth.
Indeed, it would be unusual to find a German narrator who was not numb to human suffering, who was not apparently devoid of human compassion, who was not sleepwalking through life to avoid being overwhelmed by the grim reality about him.
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But another, less forgiving, facet of this behavior is suggested by Bettelheim:. Many Germans—by no means only Nazis—derived tangible advantages from the persecution of the Jews…. With a Jewish family's enterprise or position going to one gentile German family, their home to another, and their possessions to three or four others, easily five or more German families profited greatly from the persecution of a single Jewish family. Enough reason—if not to be happy with—at least not to object to a policy which greatly enriched them without any effort on their part. In fact, at the outset of the book, the narrator's father is out of work and money is a constant worry, whereas Friedrich's father is a postal official and the Schneiders enjoy a comfortable life.
By the book's conclusion, the narrator's father has acquired a job and some financial security; as for the Schneiders—Frau Schneider has been killed, Herr Schneider has been apprehended, and Friedrich is a fugitive in the streets. This reversal of fortune mirrors what happened on a rather large scale in Germany during the s. The narrator's anonymity represents the faceless German masses who, through their silence and acquiescence, through their failure to act on ethical convictions, bear their own share of guilt for the Nazi atrocities.
Their cowardice contrasts sharply with the moral courage of the Johansens in Number the Stars. The two stories juxtaposed provide a dramatic contrast between ways of responding to ethical crises. And notably, Friedrich is virtually devoid of hope—an element so often seen as essential to a children's book—making the book far more problematic for youthful readers than Number the Stars. On the other hand, as a piece of didactic literature, a work intended to instruct us in human behavior, it succeeds because it does not lecture to us, but forces us to seek the answers within ourselves.
It poses the hard questions. Would we respond as the narrator? Whom do we condemn, if anyone? How are we to know what is right and what we should do? We should also note that the absence of hope in the story is countered in part by the historic timeline at the end of the book, which reminds us that the background events are real and that Nazi Germany ultimately would be defeated. However, even in its expression of irrational inhumanity, Friedrich does not begin to reveal the depth of terror awaiting the Jews in the death camps. This brings us to the final work, Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic , the story of a young Jewish girl inside a Nazi concentration camp, and the rarest type of Holocaust literature for younger readers.
It is interesting to note how Yolen handles the subject to bring it within the grasp of the teenage audience. The Devil's Arithmetic is a time-shift fantasy, employing a story within a story.
The protagonist, Hannah, a character based on Yolen herself , is transported from the present back in time to how is neither explained nor important to the story , experiences life in Poland as Chaya, an orphaned girl who ends up in a concentration camp, and then, as mysteriously, is transported back to the present, where no perceptible time has elapsed. But aside from the time-shift, the story is closer to historical realism than to fantasy, with its shattering portrayal of the Nazi treatment of the Jews.
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The story opens in the present day with Hannah begrudgingly taking part in her family's Seder dinner at Passover. The very first sentence in the book is Hannah's complaint, "I'm tired of remembering," referring to her impatience with the ritual, which she finds tiresome and repetitious. Hannah, in her early teens, is experiencing the natural rebellion of youth against the family; she is entertaining religious doubts, and traditions seem old-fashioned and irrelevant to her. Among her extended family is her aunt Eva, her grandfather's maiden sister, who is given the honor of lighting the Seder candles.
Hannah has always felt a special tie to Eva, who is both wise and gentle. Hannah once thought her aunt's answers to her endless questions were "magical," but "as Hannah got older, the magic disappeared, leaving Aunt Eva a very ordinary person.
Hannah hated that it was so, so she pushed the thought away" Aunt Eva becomes a seminal character in the story, which will explain this strange affinity Hannah has felt toward her. When the moment in the Seder ritual is reached that the door is to be opened for the symbolic entrance of Elijah, it is Hannah who is instructed to open it. She certainly didn't believe that the prophet Elijah would come through the apartment door any more than she believed Darth Vader, or Robin Hood , or … or the Easter Bunny, would" The religious ritual has become foolish superstition for Hannah.
She reluctantly moves toward the apartment door, flings it open, and finds herself facing, not the "long, windowless hall with dark green numbered doors leading into other apartments," but "a greening field and a lowering sky" The magical translation back to Poland, , has taken place. Hannah has been inexplicably incarnated as a recently orphaned Polish girl, recovering from an extended illness in the home of her aunt and uncle, Gitl and Shmuel who are sister and brother , somewhere in rural Poland.
Hannah initially believes that she is dreaming and she accepts the strange circumstances fully expecting to awaken at any time. But the dream will quickly turn into the worst kind of nightmare. As it happens, Hannah's translation has occurred the day before the wedding of Shmuel with the beautiful Fayge, and she joins in the joyous preparations for the event. Understandably perplexed, Hannah nevertheless embraces this new experience with a bit of relish.
The badchan , who is a village entertainer-seer-poet he reminds Hannah of a jester , says to Hannah: "So, your name is Chaya, which is to say, life. A strong name for a strange time, child. Be good, life and long life to your friends, young-old Chaya" This will become a prophetic remark. On the wedding day, a procession is formed and heads for the village where Shmuel will meet and marry his bride. Only when the procession reaches the village and Hannah sees army trucks surrounding the synagogue does she realize that she is in the past. She immediately recognizes the Nazi soldiers and knows enough history to realize what is about to happen to all the Jews of the village—including herself.
She tries to warn her new-found friends, but to no avail. She foresees the future, but no one will believe her. The villagers are herded into trucks, transported to railway boxcars, and sent on an excruciating journey to a concentration camp. The first death recorded in the book is that of a young child suffocated in the packed railway boxcar—the child was lucky.
My Mother's Ring: A Holocaust Historical Novel
The remainder of the novel chronicles the atrocities visited upon the Jews in the camp, the humiliation and degradation their heads are shaved; their names are exchanged for numbers tattooed on their arms; they are forced to wear the tattered, cast-off garments of the dead and the savage brutality the smokestacks of the ovens loom over the camp as a constant reminder of their precarious existence. In the camp, they encounter unspeakably cruel German captors and their day-to-day survival is tenuous at best. There is nothing of human decency; they are treated worse than animals and the German guards seem to relish the torment they inflict.
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There is a reversal of all human values—the sick, the infirm and the old are, instead of being cared for, destroyed. The most notably recurring word in the text is "remember. Hannah summons up her memories of her own past experiences—of books she has read and movies she has seen—and they provide her with a wealth of stories she draws upon to entertain the children.