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WHAT SHOULD BE in a Holocaust library for children? in the best of worlds there would be nothing, for in a child's world a Holocaust would never happen. Even in the land of Nazi brutality, the mad notion that they were of "the master race" had to be instilled in its youth, and the enlarged capacity for evil had to be inculcated by years of indoctrination. But the Holocaust occurred, and for the sake of the future, as well as to remember the past, we want to teach children about it, in the hope that in remembering horror and in searching for the wisdom to understand it, we may assure that it will not happen again.
In offering such books to children, it is important to remember that an encounter with the Holocaust hastens the end of innocence. When children read a vivid survivor's story that includes experiences in a concentration camp, they enter a world in which humanity is of a different nature than they had encountered until then, what Holocaust survivor Alexander Donat called the "Holocaust Kingdom." Remembering this, the selector of books for children to read will make sure that the full horror of knowing the Holocaust is postponed until greater maturity makes possible acceptance of that reality, and then, perhaps, understanding.
A question raised early in the selection process for this bibliography is prompted by the nature of the material: graphic descriptions of life in the ghettos and concentration camps; photographs of prisoners in the camps, of corpses piled up on ghetto streets and in the death camps; survivors' accounts of the horrors of daily life. Should books that include these elements be offered to ten- to twelve-year-old children as we seek to furnish them with an honest depiction of what was involved in the mass destruction of European Jewry?
Yet we mean always to provide truth in every kind of reading material we offer children, whether history or biography or personal narrative, and especially in fiction, with its strong impact on imagination and emotion. Certainly a truthful depiction of the Holocaust cannot avoid picturing the savagery and cruelty of those times. And television and films have accustomed children to violence of all kinds. So why not present the brutal truth so that children of today can begin to understand the sufferings of Jewish children much like themselves who endured the horrors of the Holocaust, often in fear and loneliness, torn as they were from their families and familiar surroundings?
Unfortunately, the images, invoked by word and photograph, are all too powerful, powerful enough to inspire the fear and horror that will turn them away from the very knowledge we seek to offer them. Children, in their need to protect themselves from the truths of Holocaust literature, will not experience those truths because they are too dreadful to absorb. How, then, can this dilemma be resolved?
Fortunately, there are enough books that present the Holocaust in a way that satisfies the need for some gentleness of treatment, while still engaging interest and presenting facts accurately, to provide a list with some diversity of subject and variety of genre. These are the books that are listed below. Those that might be too graphic are recommended for older age levels, grades 8 or 9 to 12.
The basic intent of this list is to provide a selection of books that includes the description of events and individuals in historical perspective (history and biography), from the perspective of those who imagined them (novels and short stories). The scope of the subject matter includes such topics as antisemitism; Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust; events preceding, during, and following the war; Germany and Nazism; world¥wide reactions to events; resistance and rescue; individual experiences and acts of heroism; life in the ghettos and camps; reflections on the Holocaust and its roots in human behavior.
The determination of grade level has been largely intuitive, taking into consideration vocabulary and sentence structure, overall appearance of the book, its subject matter and theme, and the handling of ghetto and camp experiences and other Nazi cruelties. Not included are books for children younger than fourth graders, the youngest age for introducing books about the subject; most books here are suited for those somewhat older. The grade level designations are only approximate and should be used in conjunction with knowledge a child's emotional and intellectual maturity.
It is to be hoped that reading one or more of these books about the Holocaust will be on a first step in the reader's journey towards comprehending the inconceivable.
- Claire Rudin