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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Books about the holocaust for young people (and others)

I recently read two books, aimed at "young people," but certainly worth reading by others. Both of them are about the holocaust, the execution of millions of Jews and others by the Nazis, in Germany, during World War II.

The two books, and their authors, have Wikipedia articles, which indicates their importance, and which you, the reader of this blog, can consult, if you wish to know more about the plots than I plan to give away.

Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, follows the life of a boy, perhaps eight years old, who doesn't know anything about his parents. However, Mischa befriends a girl, younger than he, and follows her, and her parents and uncle, into the Warsaw Ghetto. There are several interesting features of the book. They include the prevalence of children, orphan children. There are lots of them, and somehow some of them survive. Another feature is the ubiquitous lice that get on people in the ghetto, and leave their eggs in hair. Another is that the Nazis are called jackboots, and some of their marching is described. There are instances of deep villainy, and also of selfless generosity. A minor character decides that he will become a Lutheran, rather than a Jew, because he hopes that this will deliver him from the horrors visited upon the Jews. The title comes because Mischa and his friend, Janina, see a milkweed plant, growing in the stark, bare, ghetto. They come to associate the seeds, with their fibrous parachutes, floating on the wind, with angels.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is notable for several things. One of them is the narrator, who is the angel of death. He (I guess he, not she) is not intrusive, but has the power to be anywhere, especially where people are about to die. The story is about a girl of 8 or 9, Liesel Meminger. She is placed in foster care by the German authorities. She, nor her parents, are considered as Jews by the Nazis, but there are Jews around them, and the book is mostly about interactions of various kinds between Liesel and her foster parents, and Jews. Another is that the story begins before the second World War. Yet another notable feature is the effect of the bombing of German towns by the Allies. The book gets its name because Liesel picks up a book, a handbook for gravediggers, that was inadvertently dropped at a funeral. Eventually, her foster father teaches her to read from this book. In various ways, including theft, she obtains a few other books, and there are also two brief books, handwritten, and illustrated, by characters in the course of the novel. The author is trying to point out the importance of words -- Hitler's, or those of other people -- on those who read or hear them.

There are a some characters who surprised me by their good hearts, and self-sacrificial acts.

One warning -- there are a lot of German words for excrement in the book.

The Book Thief has been adapted as a film, which is supposed to be released this year.

Both books have a lot of wild running around by children, with some injuries, lots of defiance of authorities (some of which are illegitimate, but some not) and some narrow escapes.

For a recent post on another aspect of World War II in Germany, the (real) life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, see here.

Thanks for reading.

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