Do you want your family to be part of the forthcoming Holocaust Remembrance Campaign? The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and In My Hands, two books on the Holocaust, republished as part of Random House Children’s Books Read to Remember, will help your family appreciate the tragedy in two very different ways.
The Boy In The Striped Pajamas
By John Boyne
216p. Random House. $9.99
In this simple and seemingly effortless book, which topped the New York Times bestseller list and was made into a movie, Boyne shows us how war destroys the experience of childhood and, without gruesome graphics, brings us close to the horrors of the Holocaust. Marketed for young adults, the book is a must-read for all ages.
One day, in 1942, naïve, nine-year-old Bruno returns home from school and discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their five-story mansion in Berlin far away to a bleak, forbidding house that is so unpleasant that “nothing, not even the insects” would choose to stay here. From his bedroom window in his new home, on the other side of a tall, infinitely-long fence, likeable and well-mannered Bruno notices huddled groups of strange-looking people. Intent on fulfilling his longing to be an explorer, Bruno follows the fence and meets Shmuel, a boy his age, who lives on the other side of the fence. Their meeting results in a friendship. When Shmuel reveals that his father has gone missing, Bruno offers to help his friend find him – an offer which leads to devastating consequences.
A master writer, Boyne takes us right into the lives of children by immersing us in their language and experiences. In Bruno’s limited understanding, Auschwitz and the Fuhrer become “Out-With” and “the Fury” – puns that cleverly convey the essence of what they describe. Vague terms such as “the foreseeable future” cover over ominous tidings. The repetition of key phrases and rules of conduct (Bruno refers to his sister Gretel as a “Hopeless Case” and his father’s study is “Out of Bounds At All Times and No Exceptions”) are Bruno’s buoys in a world that has become topsy-turvy. We grow to love Bruno as we watch him strive to maintain his nascent humanity in the horrible reality that surrounds him. We admire him for his continual attempts “to be honest with himself.” These very characteristics render the ending of the fable all the more shocking.
As a fable, the book is not historically accurate. There were no nine-year-old boys in Auschwitz; the Nazis immediately gassed those unable to work. Furthermore, although the absence of explicit visual detail (beatings are referred to, but glossed over; the horrors of the camp aren’t clearly seen) makes the reading emotionally easier, it trivializes the horrors and allows for a false representation of the abominations. Despite this, the book still manages to make us shiver.
In My Hands: Memories Of A Holocaust Rescuer
By Irene Gut Opdyke
As told to Jennifer Armstrong
279p. Random House. $10.99
“I did not ask myself, ‘Should I do this?’, but ‘How will I do this?” says Irene Gut Opdyke. Irene, a Polish patriot and a good Catholic girl, had a burning desire to stand up for what was right. It became the impetus that drove her to save Jewish lives even though throughout Ternopol, Ukraine, posters and loudspeakers declared: Whoever helps a Jew shall be punished by death. While In My Hands is marketed for teenagers, we highly recommended parents read the memoir first and make their own decision concerning its suitability for their children, as Irene was prepared to pay a high price for her defiance.