Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
Can it really be only five months since I last posted? Wow, time sure does fly! I admit, that it’s sometimes tough trying to keep up with this grueling every five-month schedule they have me on, but that’s why I get paid the big bucks, I guess.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, when I was debating what to write about for my Mixed-Up Files piece, I realized, that it also just so happened to be Holocaust Remembrance Day as well. I thought that would be a perfect thing to write about.
Why? And why write about it on a site dedicated to Middle-Grade books.
I know the usual reason given, is that we should familiarize ourselves with the events that happened in the past, so that they aren’t repeated again and that is very true. But, ethnic cleansing has happened again. In some places in the world it’s still happening. But, that’s too general an idea. The reason I decided to write about it today, is because I believe it is important to see what happens when hatred manifests itself. There is hatred around the world today, and it is too easy to make disparaging remarks about people. Or particular groups of people. When it becomes easy to make remarks of hatred or stereotypes against a group of people, then the next step after that becomes easier as well.
In Nazi Germany, this became the norm. Ugly stereotypes were pushed by the government. One of the first times an entire country’s government made discrimination legal, with stating publicly how one group of people was to be considered inferior to everyone else. Where the government committed itself to eradicating the existence of one group of people.
By making it a government-backed doctrine, it became easier for the citizens of the nation to accept. There is a thought-process of, ‘Hey, if our government is telling us that these people are evil and inferior, then they must be’.
That is the danger of discrimination and allowing these types of things to happen. Yes, Nazi Germany was an extreme form of this, but it is what happens when people stay silent and make no attempt to stop discrimination or prejudice.
Today, people make little remarks about people, thinking that they’re being funny or harmless or not thinking anything about it at all. But making any remarks are offensive and once again, makes it easier to stereotype a people. I, personally, get offended every single time I hear somebody make a remark about Jews and money. Whether it is things like saying that Jews know how to get good bargains, or hearing people make comments about being cheap. For example, I am involved on the board of my daughters’ softball league, and sat in on meetings, where on two different occasions, somebody mentioned that we have to “Jew” somebody down in order to get a better price. Well, I after recovering from being stunned, I stopped that really fast, but it’s not the point that it was stopped, but the point that it was said in the first place. People who I’ve told the story to, say that they can’t believe that was said in front of me. Well, once again, not the point. Point was, that this is what they felt inside. This was part of their belief system.
Again, these remarks are meant to be funny or just taken as matter of fact, but what they actually do is reinforce negative stereotypes and make it easier for the next step. For the next thing. A negative comment is just that. It’s like making the comment, “That’s so gay.” Well, substitute ‘gay’ for any other group and they wouldn’t like it at all. It has a negative connotation to it. And I don’t care if the person making the remarks belongs to that particular group. They say, “It’s okay, I’m________.” A negative remark is just that and it doesn’t matter who says it. And here’s what they don’t realize, if you in a particular group make negative comments about your own group, then other people think, ‘Well, if they’re saying it, then it must be true’.
Have respect for yourself. For your people. Your ethnicity. Your sexual orientation. Don’t make it acceptable for others to say.
I know, who cares what I have to say? I’m not anybody. I have maybe four people read my column here, one of whom may or may not be my mother, but as I say every time I write, it’s my column and I can write what I want to. So now, after getting all preachy, and getting back to why I started this post to begin with, I’d like to mention some books that deal with the subject of the Holocaust.
First off, there is absolutely no discussion about this topic without including Night by Elie Wiesel. I have read this book, I don’t know how many times. I read it on my own as a kid. Reread it again as a teen and now teach it in school. And I have to say that this book gets to me every single time. The book chronicles Elie’s experiences going through the death camp at Auschwitz with his father. From the time he is callously separated from his mother and sister for the last time without any “goodbye” to those last moments with his father, I am choking up all the time. The part with his father really, really works me over. See, my father has cancer. Thankfully, he is doing okay now, but reading the part where Elie loses his own father, destroys me. There have been times where I had been reading with my high-school class, and I struggle to hold back the tears. Really. (Can you imagine being a teacher and crying in front of a bunch of high-schoolers??) Anyway, this book shows the terror and cruelty endured by these families under Nazi barbarity. Any Holocaust reading has to include this book.
Another book that most kids read is The Diary of Anne Frank. It was kept by Anne Frank during her time in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, giving powerful insight into what it was like, living in cramped quarters with other people, always scared for your lives. This book was fascinating since it kept track of the day-to-day activities of a young girl, who was roughly the same age as the kids who are reading her diary now. That enables them to perhaps identify with her a little bit more. This book also gets to me, and to be honest, I guess all Holocaust books do, but this gets to me because you go in knowing that she is ultimately captured and dies. But, the power of a book is such, that you read anyway and even though you know, you find yourself hoping against hope that she will make it through alive.
Another, I highly recommend is Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegeman. This book is done in comic book format and represents Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. It can be very disturbing at times, but it is a very well done depiction of life then.
A couple that my children liked, were The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Devil’s Arithmetic, is about a girl who travels back to the past and experiences what her family went through in a concentration camp. Number the Stars, is about a young non-Jewish girl named Annemarie, who helps her Jewish friend, Ellen, try to escape by having Ellen pose as her sister. My children really enjoyed both these books.
The last book I want to write about for now, is The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. This also tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a non-Jewish child, this time, a boy named Bruno. However, this time, the boy is the son of a Commandant of Auschwitz. Bruno visits the camp every day, but not inside. From outside, he befriends a Jewish boy named Shmuel. I know that the book is far-fetched and I don’t think it in any way could’ve happened. Most likely, Shmuel would’ve been killed right away since he was too young to work, but still, the book provides a very powerful ending, leaving readers haunted long after.
There are many more, of course, but these are just a few that I would start with. It is definitely a subject that is worth exploring and important to know.
And most of all, to remember.
Jonathan Rosen is a high school English teacher, living in South Florida. He writes middle-grade geared toward boys, because he finds they share the same sensibilities and sense of humor. Jonathan has lived all over the world and is hoping to eventually find a place that will let him stay.