Tag Archives: Holocaust

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (John Boyne) Tween-Teen Tuesday

The boy in the striped pajamas : a fableThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Age: 6th-9th grade
Genre: Historical FIction
Random House, 2006
ISBN: 9780385751896 / 216 pages
Find this book at your local library

Bruno returns to his home in Berlin one day to find the maid packing up all of his clothes. After a brief query, he finds out that his family is relocating because of his father’s promotion in the military. Living in Poland, in a desolate house in a desolate land, Bruno wanders aimlessly around the area, until he meets a young boy sitting on the other side of a barbed wire fence, wearing striped pajamas just like the rest of the people on that side of the fence. Soon Bruno comes to realize that his world isn’t so neatly black and white as he had hoped.

The book takes on a unique perspective of the Holocaust and Auschwitz. Bruno’s father is the Commandant, the lead figure in the brutality that was carried out at the largest and most notorious concentration camp during World War 2. I think Boyne did a good job of telling the story through Bruno’s naive 9-year-old eyes. Young and confused, Bruno doesn’t understand what is going on around him, even though every one else is fully aware of their situation.

At times, I found Bruno’s naiveté hard to handle. It felt more like pure ignorance and denial than naiveté. He clearly wasn’t sheltered from the situation, given that his bedroom window looks out onto the concentration camp, and the numerous scenes of violence he is witness to with his family present. His father is in the S.S. and the Commandant of Auschwitz. I couldn’t believe that Bruno had no idea of what was going on around him. Especially after a year of chatting with Shmuel about their past lives and current situations, I would have hoped that Bruno would grow up and realize what is going on, and especially how his father is involved. Or at the very least, stop referring to Auschwitz as “Out-With” and the Furor as “The Fury.” The friendship between Bruno and Shmuel also felt a bit stunted, and I think it could have been explored and expanded much more. The book itself felt about 75 pages too short. I would have liked to know more about Shmuel and his story, and I think having alternating voices between the two boys would have been a really effective vehicle to discuss how two young boys can be on such opposite ends of the spectrum of the mass hatred that was the Holocaust.

Although this book is a good introduction to the Holocaust, there is a slight disconnect between its target audience and its narrator. Older teens who know about the Holocaust might not appreciate Bruno’s childlike demeanor, and the younger kids who can relate to Bruno don’t have the background knowledge to appreciate the book’s potential.  There are also a lot of historical elements and propaganda that the author seemed to set aside in order to propel his story, but again, I think those omissions can lead to good classroom discussion of what life was really like for children during the Holocaust and how real life actually differed from the book.

The Nazi Office’s Wife – Review

“Silence. These were the habits that I wore as I lived what survivors of the Holocaust now call a U-boat, a Jewish fugitive from the Nazi death machine, hiding right in heat of the Third Reich”

These words from Edith Hahn Beer in her memoir, The Nazi Officer’s Wife lay the foundation for her captivating memoir about growing up during the Nazi regime. The memoir traces back to Edith’s memories of going to school in 1920’s with the constant prejudice against Jews already apparent. She traces the details of the change from prejudice to overnight hatred, deportment and work camps. At the age of 27, and only one test away from achieving her law degree, Edith was turned away from her University due to the ridiculous rules set up by Hilter and the Reich. Edith and her mom are trapped in the slow and agonizing decline of Jewish civil rights as they lose their ability to sustain themselves. Edith is sent to work in various work camps for years, under the promise that while she works, her family will be kept safe from the concentration camps. Her boyfriend Pepi, is often a detached source of hope and optimism for her, keeping her grounded and self-aware throughout her ordeals.

In keeping with the title of the memoir, on her way to Poland, Edith departs the train at Vienna, minus one gold star armband. Through the help of various friends, she manages to obtain papers of a German girl, taking the name of a German girl and becoming Grete Denner, a mild mannered, obediant women, instead of the starry-eyed, hopeful and intelligent Edith Hahn that she was. To further go into hiding and blend in with her new identity, Edith moved to Munich were she met the Nazi officer, Werner Vetter.

I won’t expand on any more of the story. Its an amazing read, I started yesterday and stayed up until 1am to finish the book. Edith’s storytelling is seamless, told through the eyes of a naive girl, living in daily terror of being found. I thought of the Diary of Anne Frank as I read this memoir. Both girls, trapped in worlds they did not create, victim to seething hatred that attacked their lives like an atom bomb during their youth. Anne Frank hid in a small attic in Amsterdam for almost 3 years, and Edith Hahn lived in the lion’s nest, married to a Nazi officer, living among Nazis. In Edith’s recanting of the tale, we do see the softer side of humanity, as she stresses that while the Third Reich movement spawned a deep hatred for Jews, not all Nazi’s were cruel. In a lawless society, individual’s set their own morality meter, allowing some to be more friendly and compassionate than others.

Edith’s work has since been turned into an A&E Presentation which would be worth looking up at a local video store.

Find this book at your local library

The Nazi Officer’s Wife.
How One Jewish Woman survived the Holocaust.
by: Edith Hahn with Susan Dworkin
ISBN: 068817776x
305 pages