When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971), by Judith Kerr

Kerr-HitlerThis is a simply written tale, aimed at quite a young readership, that exposes the child reader to the very periphery of the Holocaust experience.  For those aware of the history, parts of the story are extremely tense: the border crossing from Germany into Switzerland; almost getting on the wrong train when leaving for Paris; and mostly, the family’s decision to settle in France, when the reader knows of the impending German invasion.

Young Anna’s life is turned upside-down when her father, a famous liberal journalist, intelligently chooses to flee Germany days prior to Hitler’s election in 1933.  Anna’s growth as a character is indicated strongly in her responses to the things she no longer has: her first birthday away from home, in Switzerland, is a trying disappointment; but by Christmas in France, she has learned to find solace in having her family whole and together.  Her one dream is to become famous, like her father, and the book culminates—in the midst of yet another relocation—with her hopes being validated: she had read that all famous people had “difficult childhoods,” and far from feeling sorry for herself, is gratified when her Uncle Otto comments how it must be “quite difficult to spend one’s childhood moving from country to country” (257).

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Diary of a Young Girl (1947, 1952, 1995, 2001), by Anne Frank

Frank-DiaryI don’t think I need say much about the actual story; so much is already known, already discussed. What I find interesting is the editing process that produced the original 1947 version of the book and two important subsequent editions.

There are three main editions out there for popular consumption: the 1947 edition was edited by Otto Frank, Anne’s father, and was translated into English in 1952 with an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt; the 1995 definitive edition is a new translation and includes some passages not in the original publication; the third format is the 2001 critical edition, which contains side-by-side manuscripts and published editions, and is impossible to read as a narrative, but lovely to study as an academic.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the editing of the original publication, but I still find that it is the better narrative; Anne’s young voice and personality seem fresher and more real—less like an adult interpreting a young girl—and the absence of those parts included in the second edition is not (to me) noticeable.

Anne Frank received a diary for her 13th birthday, 12 June 1942. She began writing in it two days later. On 6 July 1942, the family went into hiding and Anne continued to write in her diary. There were at least four different diaries: a plaid diary from 12 June 1942 to the end of Nov. 1942; a second diary containing entries from this date to 21 Dec. 1942 is lost; an exercise book from 22 Dec. 1942 to 17 Apr. 1943; a second exercise book from then until 1 Aug 1944, the last entry (Caplan 78). What is interesting is that on 29 March 1944, “Mr. Bolkestein, the Cabinet Minister, speaking on the Dutch broadcast from London, said that after the war a collection would be made of diaries and letters dealing with the war” (Frank, Critical 144), and at this point Anne appears to have gone back over previous pages (from 20 June 1942 to 27 March 1944) and edited them herself. The revised pages were written on “typing paper” (Caplan 78), or “loose sheets” (Frank, Critical 168). These revisions suggest strongly that Anne intended the diary ultimately to be published, altering the narrative voice—perhaps subconsciously—as the diary was now being written to an unknown, other, reader. The changes she introduces make the new version much less personal, and produce in her narrative voice a greater maturity and reasonableness than revealed in her 13-year-old rantings in the unedited version.

Anne Frank’s diaries were given to her father, the only surviving member of the family, after the war, and he fortuitously chose to publish them. Here, other hands than Anne’s step into the publication process. The Dutch publisher requested—and Otto Frank obliged with—the removal of information of a personal or sexual nature, such as that regarding negative family dynamics, and Anne’s desires and menstruation. The American publishers, again in conjunction with Otto Frank, felt that the 1952 translated edition was intended to deliver a message of hope and of the power of the human spirit in adversity, and so the language in translation was carefully chosen to deliver this message, as was Eleanor Roosevelt’s short introduction. The 1995 edition reinstated much of the information Otto Frank had excised, as well as adding in a few pages that were discovered subsequent to the original publication, thus restoring some of the more sexual content (this edition of the book has been challenged in some schools in the USA). The 2001 critical edition places side-by-side all of the known versions of the original text—Anne’s various hand-written pages—and compares them to other known published versions.

Anne’s voice is thus transformed through her own growing artistic and social sensibilities; the selection process of her editors, including herself; and the linguistic choices of her various translators. Apart from the Critical Edition, from which the reader can reconstruct Anne’s own choices, we do not have a truly definitive version of what Anne felt she wanted to say, ultimately, to her reading public: the world.

On 4 August 1944, the German police raided The Annex and arrested its occupants, who were all ultimately taken to various concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot ended up in Bergen-Belsen, where they died of typhus in early 1945. Otto Frank’s publication of his daughter’s diaries gave the world a young, innocent voice narrating atrocities that few of us can imagine. David Russell has claimed that “art of the Holocaust is necessarily didactic art” (268), to which Adrienne Kertzer responded—in the tradition of “adult” writers such as Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Paul Celan—that there is no “why” in the Holocaust: “children’s books about the Holocaust seem to function primarily to explain what adult texts often claim is ultimately inexplicable” (239-40). Kertzer argues that memoir disturbs this model, because it is written without knowledge of the end, and therefore without “the consolation of shaping narrative order” (241) (Caplan 80-1). As retrospective spectators, though, we know the end of the diary—that which is not written—and it strengths the poignancy of Anne’s voice, already reconstructed twice to enhance narrative effect.

Some resources for studying Anne Frank

  • Bergen, Doris L. “Humanity in an Inhumane World.” Review of Politics 60.3 (1998): 588-91.
  • Bloom, Harold, ed.  A Scholarly Look at the Diary of Anne Frank.  Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House, 1999.
  • Brenner, Rachel Feldhay. “Writing Herself Against History: Anne Frank’s Self-Portrait as a Young Artist.” Modern Judaism 16.2 (1996): 105-34. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Caplan, Nigel A. “Revisiting the Diary: Rereading Anne Frank’s Rewriting.” The Lion and the Unicorn 28.1 (2004): 77-95.  JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Corr, Charles A. “An Annotated Bibliography of Death-Related Books for Children and Adolescents.” Literature and Medicine 21.1 (2002): 147-74. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven. “After Such Knowledge, What Laughter?The Yale Journal of Criticism 14.1 (2001): 287-313. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank.  The Definitive Edition.  1991.  Trans. Susan Massotty, 1995.  Ed. Otto Frank and Miriam Pressler.  New York: Anchor, 1996.
  • —.  Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex.  Trans. Ralph Mannheim and Michel Mok.  New York: Doubleday, 1984.
  • —.  The Diary of a Young Girl.  [Ed. Otto Frank.]  Trans. B.M. Mooyaart-Doubleday.  New York: Doubleday, 1952.  Trans. of Het Achterhuis, 1947.
  • —.  The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition.  Trans. Arnold J. Pomerans.  Ed. David Barnouw and Cerrold Van Der Stroom.  New York: Doubleday, 1989.
  • Goertz, Karen K. “Writing from the Secret Annex: The Case of Anne Frank.” Michigan Quarterly Review 39.3 (2000): 647-60.
  • Goldstein, Judith. “Anne Frank: The Redemptive Myth.” Partisan Review 70.1 (2003): 16-23.
  • Hasian, Marouf Arif. “Anne Frank, Bergen-Belsen, and the Polysemic Nature of Holocaust Memories.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 4.3 (2001): 349-74. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Iskander, Sylvia P.  “Anne Frank’s Reading.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 13.3 (1988): 102-65.
  • Karolides, Nicholas J. and Donna Sova, eds.  “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.”  100 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature.  New York: Checkmark, 1999. 339-41.
  • Kertzer, Adrienne.  My Mother’s Voice: Children, Literature, and the Holocaust.  Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2002.
  • —. “‘Do you know what “Auschwitz” means?’ Children’s Literature and the Holocaust.” The Lion and the Unicorn 23.3 (1999): 238-56.
  • —. “Saving the Picture: Holocaust Photographs in Children’s Books.” The Lion and the Unicorn 24.3 (2000): 402-31. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Kidd, Kenneth.  “’A’ is for Auschwitz: Psychoanalysis, Trauma Theory, and the ‘Children’s Literature of Atrocity.’”  Children’s Literature 33 (2005): 120-49.
  • Kremer, S. Lillian.  “Children’s Literature and the Holocaust.”  Children’s Literature 32 (2004): 252-63.
  • Larson, Thomas. “’In Spite of Everything’: The Definitive Indefinite Anne Frank.” Antioch Review 58.1 (2000): 40-44.
  • Lejeune, Philippe, and Victoria A. Lodewick. “How Do Diaries End?Biography 24.1 (2001): 99-112. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Leowy, Hanno.  “Saving the Child: The ‘Universalization’ of Anne Frank.”  Marginal Voices, Marginal Forms: Diaries in European Literature and History.  Ed. Rachael Langford and Russell West.  156-74.
  • McMaster, Juliet. “‘Adults’ Literature,’ By Children.” The Lion and the Unicorn 25.2 (2001): 277-99. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Morson, Gary Saul.  “How Did Dostoevsky Know?” New Criterion 17.9 (1999): 21-30. [about the dramatization]
  • Myers, Mitzi. “Storying War: A Capsule Overview.” The Lion and the Unicorn 24.3 (2000): 327-36. JSTOR. 21 July 2005.
  • Reiter, Andrea.  “The Holocaust as Seen Though the Eyes of Children.”  The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable.  Ed. Andrew Leak and George Paizis.  New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.  83-96.
  • Russell, David L. “Reading the Shards and Fragments: Holocaust Literature for Young Readers.” The Lion and the Unicorn 21.2 (Apr. 1997): 267-80.
  • Stewart, Victoria. “Anne Frank and the Uncanny” Paragraph 24.1 (2001): 99-113.
  • Sullivan, Ed. “Beyond Anne Frank: Recent Holocaust Literature for Young People.” The New Advocate 15 (2001): 49-55.
  • Yanow, Dvora. “The Anne Frank Myth.” Judaism 49.2 (2000): 183-8.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006), by John Boyne

Boyne - BoyJohn Boyne’s latest novel, The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket (2013), has been shortlisted for the Irish Book Award: Children’s Book of the Year, an honour that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas won when it was published in 2006; like The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, it has also been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, so I felt that before reviewing it for Resource Links magazine (it is only due to be released this March), I felt I should read Boyne’s other two children’s books.  According to John Boyne’s website, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas also won the “Irish Book Award People’s Choice Book of the Year, Bisto Book of the Year, Que Leer Award Best International Novel of the Year (Spain), Orange Prize Readers Group Book of the Year.” It was shortlisted for the “British Book Award, the Border’s New Voices Award; the Ottaker’s Children’s Book Prize, the Paolo Ungari Literary Award (Italy), Irish Book Award Irish Novel of the Year Award; the Leeds Book Award; the North-East Book Award; the Berkshire Book Award; the Sheffield Book Award; the Lancashire Book Award; Prix Farniente (Belgium); Flemish Young Readers Award; Independent Booksellers Book of the Year; Deutschen Jugend Literatur Preis (Germany).” It was also longlisted for the “Carnegie Medal and the International IMPAC Literary Award.” Quite the list of honours. It is really difficult, psychologically, to review a book that has won such accolades when I personally find it highly problematic. I am actually speaking of both the Boyne books I have read, but let us stick to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas for the moment; my review of Barnaby Brocket will be published elsewhere fairly soon.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has a relatively simple plot. The protagonist, Bruno, is the son of a Nazi officer, recently promoted to Commandant of a place that Bruno mistakenly calls Out-With. Bruno does not understand why the people on the other side of the fence wear “striped pyjamas,” or why Pavel, who claims to be a doctor, should be serving him dinner. Bruno disobeys his parents’ command never to leave his residential compound, and goes “exploring” along the fence, for “for almost two hours” (107).  Eventually, a young boy, Shmuel, comes to the fence and talks to him. The two build a friendship, just talking through the fence, until one day—the day before Bruno is scheduled to return to Berlin with his mother and sister—Bruno crawls under the loose wire of the fence to help Shmuel look for his father, who has disappeared. Things do not go well in the end, and Bruno’s father—finally figuring out what has happened to his lost son—is left to consider the personal ramifications of his engagement with the Nazi atrocities.
A number of children’s literature experts on the child_lit listserv took umbrage with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, one at least feeling that it was inappropriate to ask the reader to be sympathetic to a Nazi child or, more significantly, to a Nazi parent, given the historical situation. My own opinion is that Boyne does manage to create a child narrator who is sympathetic in his naïveté; interestingly, though, it is that very naïveté that offends me as a reader.
There is a commercial currently playing on Canadian television for belVita breakfast bars—I believe—in which the 5-year-old child (or thereabouts) pictures his father “crawling through traffic” and being “buried under a mountain of paperwork” in his office. The young child visualizes the phrases literally, which is comic in an advertisement. In Boyne’s novel, however, Bruno exhibits the same lack of development, the same inability to interpret his world, as the child in the ad. The problem is: Bruno is 9 years old. Still, he cannot pronounce Auschwitz or Führer, repeating “Out-With” and “Fury” even after being corrected by his remarkably precocious 12-year-old sister.  That he does not understand his father’s job intimately is not surprising, but that he has no idea—and when asked in class, “he realized that he didn’t know himself. All he could say was that his father was a man to watch and that the Fury had big things in mind for him. Oh, and that he had a fantastic uniform, too” (5). Later, when he forgets to salute, his father reminds him, and Bruno “made the signal, and said the phrase and imitated him exactly. … ‘Heil Hitler,’ he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, ‘Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon” (53-54). To solidify our opinion of his intellect, Bruno later asks his father of Hitler: “Well, who is he anyway?) (117).
The Deutsches Jungvolk—the younger division of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) movement—had children from ages 10 and up. In fact, German elementary schools were universally teaching anti-Semitic doctrine as early as 1937. Mary Mills presents the following school math problem on her website: “The Jews are aliens in Germany—in 1933 there were 66,060,000 inhabitants in the German Reich, of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the per cent of aliens?” (from Herbert Hirsch, Genocide and the Politics of Memory (Chapel Hill & London: U of North Carolina P, 1995) 119). Hitler’s propaganda machine even rewrote traditional fairy tales, as discussed in Ron Schlesinger’s 2010 investigation of “Red Riding Hood in the Third Reich: German fairy tale movies between 1933 and 1945.” As the children of a Nazi Commandant, Bruno and his sister would undoubtedly have been inculcated with Nazi propaganda from an early age, as were their peers. It is highly unlikely that Bruno’s parents shielded him from such ideological inculcation, given his father’s profession. If indeed they had shielded their children from the world, how do we account for the sexual precociousness of his sister, Gretel, who flirts, “putting on a silly voice that made her sound as if she hadn’t a thought in her head” (79), with one of the soldiers, Lieutenant Kotler?
Another logistical anomaly is the loose wire Bruno finds in the fence, exactly where he happens to rest, and happens to meet Shmuel. In the end, the boys use it to sneak Bruno into the camp; but if such an escape route existed, and Shmuel understood the gravity of his position—which is made explicit at times—why would Shmuel—and others—not have snuck out? Similarly, a 9-year-old concentration camp inmate would never have collaborated in sneaking a boy he cared for into the camp: the stakes were too high. Even more problematic, though, is Shmuel’s mere existence in Auschwitz, where children too young for arduous manual labour (as young Shmuel was) were immediately gassed, along with the old and infirm.
Effective literature for children about the Holocaust is very difficult to create. Lois Lowry has been criticized because her Number the Stars (1989) tells of perhaps the only Holocaust story with a happy ending: the transportation of the Danish Jews to neutral Sweden in 1943. But is there a way to write of the real horrors for young readers? I don’t mean stories of World War II, such as Donna Jo Napoli’s superb Stones in Water (1999), but stories of the Holocaust itself: of the persecution of the Jews and others sent to the death camps. For young adult readers, we have, or course, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl (1947; English translation 1952), as well as Elie Weisel’s Night (1958), Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986), Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988), Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed (2003), and actually quite a few others. For younger readers, though? Perhaps Roberto Innocenti’s picture book Rose Blanche (1986), or Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971), but I can think of none other that are both sufficiently historically truthful and yet psychologically palatable for the young. Certainly The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, in my estimation, does not succeed

The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988), by Jane Yolen

I don’t think I have read a more powerful narrative of the Holocaust aimed at young adults.  Yolen has captured the chasm between Jewish reality today and that of Nazi Germany spectacularly.  The Devil’s Arithmetic is the tale of a Jewish girl who doesn’t understand the importance of remembrance, and resists participating in the Passover Seder, preferring to hang out with her goy friends.  During a seder celebration, she is transported back to Nazi Germany, and (unbeknownst) meets her grandmother in a concentration camp.  In the end, she must choose death to save the girl who would become her grandmother.  The historicity, the pathos, the personal experience, are marvellously balanced; while we can never truly feel what the victims did, Yolen gives us a glimpse into how someone from our time might have reacted, thrust backwards in time to a terror she understood while those around her did not.