Archive for the ‘Holocaust’ Category

CatsInKrasinskiSquareKaren Hesse has written and Wendy Watson has illustrated a wonderful book based on a true story. Ms. Hesse mentioned in the Author’s Note that in 2001 she came across a short article about cats outfoxing the Gestapo at the train station in Warsaw during World War II. In this particular book, The Cats in Karsinski Square, Resistance fighters were bringing food into the Ghetto and the Germans found out about it. There with their dogs, the Gestapo was ready to make arrests. However, other Resistance let cats loose in the station, diverting the attention of the dogs. So simple, yet so effective.

The Cats in Krasinski Square is a straightforward story well worth the short time it will take to read. It is up to the standards we expect from Karen Hesse.

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RoseUnderFireI sandwiched Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein between The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, the ultimate beach read and The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle, the ultimate coming of age/love story. Talk about contrast. Which one is not like the others?

Rose Under Fire, the companion novel to Wein’s award winning Code Name Verity is equally compelling. In my post about Verity, I said “It is about the clash between what you do and what you portray to others…how you do or don’t live with yourself.” This holds true for Rose Under Fire as well.  What I like about the main characters of these two books is their understated heroism.

Rose is an American 18 year old working as an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot in England in 1944, ferrying planes back and forth to troops that need them and flying damaged ones back for repair. On one flight she sees a buzz bomb and decides to attempt to dislodge it from its targeted course. After doing so, however, she gets intercepted by the Luftwaffe and is diverted to a German air base and ultimately transported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Rose’s story is told in three sections: Southampton, Ravensbruck and Nuremburg. Through a series of diary entries, Rose describes her life as a pilot, the atrocities (including medical experiments), comradship and inhumanity in the concentration camp and finally her escape, liberation and emotions during the Nuremburg trials.

I typically don’t read books about the Holocaust because I can’t stomach it. But Wein has a way with words and characters, making her books impossible to put down. While they describe the inhumane treatment suffered by the camp inmates at the hands of soldiers, other inmates, and civilians, it also describes lovingly the heroic deeds, large and small, that prisoners were capable of, the selfless acts that impacted others’ lives.CodeNameVerity

Wein leaves no doubt that the concentration camps, the commandants that ran them and the doctors who experimented on deportees were evil personified. She describes the horrendous conditions of the camps and the people living in them. However, she also, out of the darkest gloom shines a light on people who fought, within the camps, to save prisoners, people who saved a crust of bread for others, who would not work in the factories that manufactured bombs which would have been dropped on Allied forces.

While it is not necessary to read Code Name Verity to enjoy Rose Under Fire, both are worth reading. Wein has compiled a list of resources, including internet and survivor accounts. And, while Wein states that this is a work of fiction, the general descriptions of the camp is based on fact.  I envision many awards for Rose Under Fire. Both books are a must read.

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BetweenShadesOfGrayI began reading Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman at the suggestion of my kids. A book about good and evil and the Apocolypse, Satan at one point basically says that people have dreamed up more horrid and inhumane ways of torturing each other than even Satan could come up with. Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys’ haunting debut novel is testament to this fact.

While much has been written about the atrocities of Hitler during World War II, little has been written about the atrocities of Stalin in the early 1940s as he annexed the Baltic States of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Lina, a fifteen year old Lithuanian, her ten year old brother and their mother are startled one evening by the NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, pounding on their door and telling them they have twenty minutes to pack their things. Thus begins a brutal 10 year journey that only some will survive, taking them across Russia to Siberia and ultimately to the Arctic Circle.

Man’s inhumanity to man is evident on every page as Lithuanians are categorized as “thieves and prostitutes”, beaten up, spit upon, made to work long hours with little nourishment; made to endure extreme cold with no wood for a fire or warm clothing. As I read this, I couldn’t imagine the joy the NKVD derived from taunting their captives who had nothing. I couldn’t fathom how the Lina and the other prisoners persevered under such dire circumstances, how they maintained their faith in returning home and how any of them survived at all.

Sepetys also describes how some of the captives were so self-centered as to do nothing for their comrades while others were so selfless, doing for everyone, even those who would not return the gesture.

Although it is impossible to feel Lina’s pain without having experienced her journey, readers will come as close as possible to living alongside the characters. Despite the stomach churning atrocities being described, I couldn’t put the book down because of the way Sepetys describes how people bolstered each other, how Lina drew her surroundings at first to keep up her spirits and later to document her life. I was amazed to find out from the Acknowledgements that even when finally allowed to return to their homelands, merely discussing their deportation was cause for imprisonment or a return to Siberia.

Between Shades of Gray is a must read. We all must hope that reading and talking about the atrocities of the past will eliminate them in the future.

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