By Robin Jacobson.
This November marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), considered by many to be the night the Holocaust began. A violent turning point in Nazi Jewish policy, this wave of orchestrated, anti-Jewish riots swept across Germany, Austria, and parts of Czechoslovakia on November 9-10, 1938. This fall, commemorations around the world will memorialize the dead and also, hopefully, inspire audience members to speak out against hatred, bigotry, and violence in our own time.
The Holocaust is a difficult topic for parents and teachers, but books can help. Here are some standout books published in recent years on brave resisters, Jews and non-Jews who made the extraordinary choice to risk their lives to help others.
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe (2017) (ages 13 & up)
This is a semi-fictionalized account of events surrounding a tiny library secreted within a clandestine school at Auschwitz concentration camp. Containing only eight tattered but precious books, the library was in the care of 14-year-old Dita Polachova (Dita Adler in the book). Facing daily danger, Dita devised a system for lending these books to teachers for their classes and then surreptitiously collecting and hiding them each day. The books were a motley assortment: they included a geometry textbook, a geographic atlas, H.G. Wells’ A Short History of the World, a Russian grammar book, a French novel, and a treatise by Sigmund Freud. Some books were useful to teachers for their content, others were useful merely as a means to teach the alphabet. Dita also lent out six “living books” – teachers who knew particular books or stories well and visited classes on a rotating basis to share them. Author Iturbe based this compelling account on interviews with Dita, who survived the Holocaust and now lives in Israel.
His Name was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden (2012) (ages 12 & up)
In 1944, the American War Refugee Board recruited Raoul Wallenberg, a young Swedish businessman, for a mission aimed at saving Hungarian Jews from deportation and death. During World War II, Sweden was a neutral country, and its Budapest legation had already begun aiding desperate Hungarian Jews. Wallenberg was to lead a more extensive rescue operation.
Granted diplomatic status by Sweden, Wallenberg leapt into action. He designed authoritative-looking certificates of protection with the Swedish coat of arms and issued them to thousands of Jews. Daringly, he even slipped passes to Jews already loaded onto deportation trains and then demanded that the “Swedish Jews” be released into his custody. He bought and rented apartment houses, flew the Swedish flag at each entrance, and declared the buildings to be Swedish territory. Wallenberg sheltered 15,000 Jews inside these “Swedish houses.” Credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews, Wallenberg’s fate remains a mystery. He disappeared into Soviet custody in January 1945.
We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman (2016) (ages 10 & up)
This is the inspiring true story of Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose student resistance movement they led in Germany during World War II. As children, Hans and his younger sister Sophie were members of Hitler Youth, but by the time they began studying at the University of Munich they were fervently committed to non-violent anti-Nazi activism. Under the name “White Rose,” the Scholls and their friends dared to write and distribute leaflets decrying Nazi atrocities and urging German citizens to resist the Nazi regime. Tragically, the Nazi government caught and executed the Scholls and other members of the White Rose in 1943.