Merry Wanderer of the Night  + [YA]

Memory Monday — Holocaust Fiction

I know this is the third Memory Monday you've had to hear from me in a row. Last week was Fairy Tale Fortnight so I shared two fairy tale memories with you. This week, I wanted to share something a little more somber. Fairy Tale Fortnight had me so busy, that I haven't seen much on anyone's blog but mine and Misty's for the whole month of April, so I didn't see this earlier, but I stumbled across an event on JG's blog — The Introverted Reader that I wanted to take part in, and Memory Monday seemed like the perfect place to put it.

JG is hosting this Holocaust Remembrance Week. I wanted to share my first experience with the Holocaust in literature.

The first book I remember reading about the Holocaust is Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic. It is the story of a young Jewish girl, Hannah, who doesn't really understand the Holocaust, or her Jewish heritage in general. At Passover this year, when she leaves the table to open the door for the symbolic entry of the prophet Elijah, she finds herself looking out across wide fields, instead of the narrow hallway of her aunt's apartment building. She finds herself back in time, right before the Nazi's come to take her entire village to the concentration camps. Hannah, whose Jewish name is Chaya, is terrified. She learned about this in school, and she knows what's coming. But no one will listen to her. They brush it off as the residual effects of the fever that almost took her life. And so, Hannah lives in the camps, and she learns.

I read this book in 6th grade, and I've never forgotten it. It changed the way I viewed both books and the Holocaust. Hannah's story touched me. It made me want to learn more about this tragic time in history so that I would never forget what an important part of the history of our world it is. Hannah's story hurt my heart. Her descriptions of life in the camp are not overly graphic — I read this book in 6th grade and it was most definitely age appropriate but they are also far from sugar coated. She describes what life was like for these Jews and other "undesirables" in stark terms, making it very clear that to live was to feel pain, to breathe was to suffer. From the beginning, when the soldiers strip them naked after their showers and shave their heads to the very end when soldiers go about selecting Jews to die, simply because they are a little too full, my heart broke for these characters.

At 11 years old, I didn't have any previous frame of reference for this type of suffering and abuse and I cried. I cried while reading this book when people were in pain, but also when people showed their innate goodness, sharing bread when they are already starving, and burdens when they are already weak beyond endurance. I've read this book many times since that first read through in 6th grade, and it never fails to touch my heart. I've read many other books about the Holocaust since then, and all of them have their own power and ability to move me. But this is the one that I remember first, because it was my first.

This is a powerful story. One that I dare you to read and not be moved by.