I stood in the halls of the "Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945" display at the City-County Building watching the responses of the people to the photographs and the memorabilia from World War II. Some shook their heads in disbelief, others moved their lips as they read the captions and placards. One old man bent his head, almost in prayer, and whispered, "No more! No more!"
The young people drew my attention, too, for this is a display of a child in the Holocaust. There were looks of wonderment, disbelief and boredom from the youth. Many fidgeted, not realizing the story behind the photographs. The children looking at the exhibit don't really know war, only stories from television: drama, heroes and a MASH medical unit that combines humor and pathos.This display was different; still pictures - large and graphic - of a girl, someone near their own age, and real atrocities of war. Possibly to some, it couldn't be war, there was no action.
Parents explained the history to some children, others answered questions. But the one comment that loomed like a shadow, unanswered, was asked by a boy about 8 or 9, "But why would they do that?"
Why. That is the question that has hung over this slice of history since it happened. Why, indeed. The parent could not answer the question. Nor can the history books.
Literature for children and young adults has not attempted to answer the question of "why" but has tried to go beyond textbooks of facts and show that war is not a game of heroes, not a glamorous experience.
The atrocities of the German invasion, the resistance forces and the Holocaust have been well-documented in literature for young readers. The books range from poetry, picture books, fiction, fictionalized history and non-fic-tion. Usually they involve a protagonist between 12 and 18, which makes the story relevant and full of impact.
There are first-person accounts such as THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank and memoirs based on family events like I WAS THERE by Hans P. Richter and Lore Cowan's CHILDREN OF THE RESISTANCE. Probably the most moving account is poetry written by children in confinement, I NEVER SAW ANOTHER BUTTERFLY: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-44, collected by Hana Volavkova.
PROMISE OF A NEW SPRING; THE HOLOCAUST AND RENEWAL by Gerda Weissman Klein combines photos of Nazi Germany with watercolor drawings in an allegory of the Holocaust to a forest fire and the destruction of nature.
ESCAPE OR DIE; TRUE STORIES OF YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ESCAPED THE HOLOCAUST by Ina Friedman, THE UPSTAIRS ROOM by Johanna Reiss, and Jane Yolen's DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC all tell of those who escaped the death of the gas chambers and the mistreatment of the confinement camps.
Novels that tell of the resistance, particularly when the children were directly involved, are probably the most suspenseful since they include adventure, much danger and seeking an escape. TOUCH WOOD; A GIRL IN OCCUPIED FRANCE by Renee Roth-Hano, TWENTY AND TEN by Claire Huchet Bishop and Judith Kerr's WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT all tell stories of how it might have been when the fear of invasion was evident.
NUMBER THE STARS, the 1990 Newbery Award novel by Lois Lowry, tells the adventure of the Danish resistance with a child as heroine.
The strong impact of the Holocaust is portrayed in many stories even generations after the war. Two in particular are of special interest. THE WAVE by Morton Rhue is the first-hand account of a social studies class where the students asked, "If all the Germans weren't Nazis, why did they let the horrors happen?" The teacher answered with a system of disciplines that resulted in discrimination and ultimately violence. "The lesson was more than learned!" said the teacher.
In GENTLEHANDS by M.E. Kerr, a young man discovers his adored grandfather is accused of being an officer in a German concentration camp, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Jews during World War II.
While these fiction and non-fiction pieces record the horrible events, they also give insight into what Winston Churchill called " . . . the greatest and most horrible single crime ever committed in the whole history of the world. . . . " They do not come close to the inhumane treatment, the injustices that can never be completely blotted from the archives or apologized for. But they can become a witness of the heroism, a ledger to future generations that listen to the old man's words, "No more! No more!"
Children and war; German invasion, resistance and the Holocaust:
Abells, Chana B. THE CHILDREN WE REMEMBER
Adler, David. WE REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST
Adler, David. THE NUMBER ON MY GRANDFATHER'S ARM
Atkinson, Linda. IN KINDLING FLAME; THE STORY OF HANNAH SENESH
Bernbaum, Israel. MY BROTHER'S KEEPER: THE HOLOCAUST THROUGH THE EYES OF AN ARTIST
Bishop, Claire Huchet. TWENTY AND TEN
Chaikin, Miriam. A NIGHTMARE IN HISTORY; THE HOLOCAUST
Cowan, Lore. CHILDREN IN THE RESISTANCE
Finkelstein, Norman. REMEMBER NOT TO FORGET; A MEMORY OF THE HOLOCAUST
Forman, James. THE SURVIVOR
Frank, Anne. DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL
Friedman, Ina. THE OTHER VICTIMS: FIRST PERSON STORIES OF NON-JEWS PERSECUTED BY THE NAZIS
Friedman, Ina. ESCAPE OR DIE: TRUE STORIES OF YOUNG PEOPLE WHO SURVIVED THE HOLOCAUST
Isaacman, Clara and Grossman, Joan. CLARA'S STORY
Kerr, Judith. WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT
Klein, Gerda W. PROMISE OF A NEW SPRING; THE HOLOCAUST AND RENEWAL
Lasky, Kathryn. NIGHT JOURNEY
Lowry, Lois. NUMBER THE STARS
Meltzer, Milton. NEVER TO FORGET: THE JEWS OF THE HOLOCAUST
Majoran, Michelle. GOODNIGHT, MR. TOM
Neimark, Anne E. ONE MAN'S VALOR: LEO BAECK AND THE HOLOCAUST
Orgel, Doris. THE DEVIL IN VIENNA
Richter, Hans P. FRIEDRICH
Richter, Hans P. I WAS THERE
Romm, Leonard J. THE SWASTIKA ON THE SYNAGOGUE DOOR
Rossel, Seymour. THE HOLOCAUST
Roth-Hano, Renee. TOUCH WOOD: A GIRL IN OCCUPIED FRANCE
Sachs, Marilyn. A POCKETFUL OF SEEDS
Sender, Ruth M. THE CAGE
Stadtler, Bea. THE HOLOCAUST; A HISTORY OF COURAGE AND RESISTANCE
Stein, R. Conrad. THE HOLOCAUST
Suhl, Yuri. UNCLE MISHA'S PARTISANS
Volavkova, Hana. I NEVER SAW ANOTHER BUTTERFLY (Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-44)
Yolen, Jane. DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC
Zyskind, Sara. STOLEN YEARS