So that we will never forget ………
3 September 1939 – war was declared by England against Nazi Germany, six days later Canada joined them. We were at war.
Last summer a couple of young men were browsing the shelves in Parry Sound Books. One of the new books, face out, was Nathan Englander’s book What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank? One said to the other, “who is Anne Frank?”. I was too surprised to say a word. How is it possible that these boys – young men – did not know who Anne Frank was? Did they not learn about the holocaust in school, had they never even heard of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl? I had wondered when Nathan Englander’s book was published if we really needed yet another book about the Holocaust or Anne Frank – the answer was obviously, I now realize, a resounding Yes!
Anne Frank cannot be forgotten and the title story in this collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank challenges us each with a question. If you are a Jew, who do you trust enough to know they would help you, perhaps hide you – as the Frank family was hidden in Amsterdam during the Second World War – even at great risk to themselves?
This summer as I read a novel for children, Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer, I thought again of the Nathan Englander collection. Black Radishes is based, in part, on the author’s own family story of their escape from France during the Second World War, and the people in the village where they stayed during the early years of the war.
The family having left Paris at the time of the Nazi invasion, lives quietly, just outside Nazi occupied France, hiding as much as possible the fact that are Jews. Young Gustave attends school while his parents work. There are neighbours, some friendly and some decidedly unfriendly. It is a story that ends well for this particular family as they board a ship to join other family members in the United States – even as they leave behind close friends who were unable to escape Paris before being sent to a concentration camp – as Anne Frank was.
There are several books for teenagers about the Second World War and the fate of children during the Holocaust. A couple of others I would recommend are Greater Than Angels by Carol Matas, another story set in France about people who did indeed make a difference in the survival of French Jews. Escape From Berlin by Irene W. Watts is a completion of three novels, Good-bye Marianne, Remember Me and Finding Sophie, re-issued as an omnibus to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport, a train which transported Jewish children out of Nazi occupied Europe to safety in England.
2014 is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. Many of those who are old enough to have memory of it are elderly. Most of those who were old enough, barely, to fight in that war are dead. The Jews who lived in Europe and survived are also dying. It will be through their words, their written words, that their memories, their legacy, will survive to tell us their story – so that we will never forget.