Back from the deep abyss and jumping right into the Holocaust

It has been almost three months since I first posted  to my blog. Not wanting my blog to disappear in the abyss of dead blogs, I decided to incorporate it into my independent study to get it jump started.  I figured 16 weeks of writing a blog will motivate me to review more books. The emphasis of my independent study revolves around me reading young adult books that appeal to adults and vice versa. This being said, I have already completed my first week.

When I was choosing my books for this course I decided that my first week will focus on Holocaust literature. This is always a popular topic. From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (John Boyne) to Night (Elie Wiesel), there is a steady stream of literature to pull from. I, myself, almost always pick up any book that deals with this topic – just look at my Goodreads’ account. This led me to my first two books, Rose Under Fire (Elizabeth Wein) and My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story (J.L. Witterick).

 Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

This past summer I got to meet Elizabeth Wein twice at the annual ALA conference. The first time was at the YALSA coffee klatch, where she talked about her inspiration for Code Name Verity. She also disclosed that she would be signing her new book, Rose Under Fire, at the Disney booth. I was stoked. You would have thought that I had devoured Code Name Verity when she told my table this. However, I sadly had not. I had interlibrary loaned the book when it first came in but passed it to a fellow co-worker. This co-worker absolutely adored it. Finishing my master thesis, I put the book on my to-reads list. Fast forward two years later, I haven’t finished reading the book.  Truthfully, I could not get into the book. I figured that I would give Wein another chance with Rose Under Fire. 

Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to Code Name Verity. While Code Name Verity deals with a young female pilot caught by the Gestapo, Rose follows the experiences of another young  woman caught by the Nazis and placed in the concentration camp, Ravensbrück. Technically, you can read the books separately. However, there are some spoiler alerts for Code Name Verity in Rose Under Fire. 

When I first started reading Rose I was slightly underwhelmed. Told through accident reports and diary entries, Rose talks about her experiences as an ATA pilot and her daily experiences with friends.  The book finally picks up  around page 60 when Rose goes missing. Her friends and family express their thoughts and feelings through the letters. The action then really takes off in part two of the book. It is here that Rose begins her story after she is back in the safety of the Allies. Recuperating in a hotel, Rose writes down her story. She alternates between her emotions as a survivor and her actual survival within the camp.

The most refreshing aspect of this book was Wein’s focus on a group that is not normally written about, the “rabbits.” These were 74 Polish prisoners who were used as medical experiments in Ravensbrück. Rose’s relationship and interaction with these women show a different side of the concentration camps.  Furthermore, her interactions with a past medical nurse (now a prisoner) really shows that no situation is black or white, but many shades of gray.

Readers may find Rose’s poems to be the weakest part of the book. They are littered throughout the book. I personally tried to read them, but I never made any connection with them.  I felt like the poems pulled the book down, and I ended up passing over all of them. Despite this small tidbit, readers will propel through Rose’s experiences. 

Adults will enjoy fleshing out the characters in this novel while learning about another side in the Holocaust. 

My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story by J.L. Witterick

I selected My Mother’s Secret as a pairing for Rose Under Fire because  several people just raved about it. I immediately placed it on hold at my local library. As soon as it came in, I cracked it open. I was pleasantly surprised with what I read.

The book is told in three different voices. Four voices  are intertwined through a mother’s and daughter’s bravery and courage during World War II. Each character trying to survive during the Nazi regime. Witterick really demonstrates how stories can overlap and interact with one another. From two Jewish families trying to save their lives to a German soldier who abhors war, these characters place their safety in one family’s hands.

This book is an extremely fast read. The story is written very tightly and the character development keeps the reader wanting more. Witterick does not waste one single word and the chapter’s seamlessly  transition into each other. Teen and adult readers will enjoy this beautifully written book. 

Recommendations:

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blackman
This is a debut novel of a trilogy series about Gretchen Müller. Müller is a young woman living in the Munich, Germany during the 1930s. Considered a quasi-niece of Adolf Hitler, Gretchen is taught that  Jews are subhumans who cannot feel emotion. Her beliefs and thoughts are quickly turned upside down when she meets Jewish reporter, Daniel Cohen.

This books does not come out until April, but I was afforded the luxury of reading an ARC of it. I normally groan when I see that a book has turned into a trilogy, but I am excited to see where Blackman takes Gretchen’s story. I also really appreciated her attention to detail. If you know anything about Hitler’s life, pay close attention to the characters in this novel.

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian

This is an older book. Written in 2002, Bagdasarian creates a fictional account based on the Armenian Massacre. Although this week’s focus was focused on the Holocaust, I thought Forgotten Fire fit extremely well into this unit, especially when Hitler said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Bagdasarian does not attempt to mask any of the atrocious committed during this period. Vahan Kenderian’s story continuously lacks happy endings. With his family and life stripped away from him, Vahan learns to survive in a country who despises his heritage.

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance by Doreen Rappaport

Opening her book with the poem “I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever,” Doreen Rappaport transports her readers to Hitler’s regime and the experiences of Jewish resistance fighters. Told in five separate sections and spanning across continental Europe, Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust compiles over twenty biographies and experiences of Jewish resistance fighters. From disguising themselves as Nazis to practicing their religion in secret, Jewish resisters did not go peacefully to their deaths and ensured that their voices were heard.

Students and researchers of Holocaust literature will appreciate this book as it offers an in-depth examination of the roles Jewish resisters played. Each segment furthermore only remains ten pages, allowing it readers to fully engage the text without feeling burdened. Archival images of the resisters and the events surrounding the Holocaust continue to deepen the understanding of the history. Finally, readers will appreciate the comprehensive bibliography and index. Rappaport’s final closing poem “I am a Jew and will a Jew forever” will offer its readers new meaning once finishing this book.

Other Recommendations

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson