While it’s still Valentine’s Day in my part of the globe, I decided to come up with something different in this season of hearts. Today, I bring you the creepy tale of Sid Fleischman’s The Entertainer and the Dybbuk. After all, we’re still in our bimonthly theme of Circus, Carnivale, and Paranormal Twists.
In the deep shadows the intruder glowed faintly, as if sprayed with moonlight.
“Well, well, howdy,” said the ventriloquist, startled. “Waiting for a bus?”
“Waiting for you, Mr. Yankee Doodle, sir.”
When I picked up The Entertainer and the Dybbuk from the library, I felt a sense of eeriness just by looking at the book cover. Thanks to R. L. Stine’s Night of the Living Dummy from his Goosebumps series, I developed a phobia of the classic ventriloquist’s dummy, the wooden kind with a creepy grin on its face. Exactly like the one in the cover of The Entertainer and the Dybbuk. Nevertheless, I took it home with me for three reasons:
- It is a Sid Fleischman book.
- It is an easy read.
- It has an interesting take on the Holocaust.
Remembering World War II Through A Most Unlikely Medium. When I saw this book, I had no idea what a ‘dybbuk’ was. According to the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine, the word ‘dybbuk’ comes from the Hebrew verb ledavek, which means “to cling.” In Sid Fleischman’s book, the dybbuk describes itself through the following lines:
“I said, a dybbuk. A spirit. With tsuris. That means trouble in my native language, Mr. Far-Away America. Think of me as a Jewish imp. I need to possess someone’s body for a while, rent free.” (p. 7)
The dybbuk was the ghost of a young boy named Avrom Amos Poliakov. He was a victim of the Nazis during World War II. He was shot by a German SS officer and left in the street to bleed to death.
In the back flap of the book, it was noted that Sid Fleischman hesitated to write a story about the Holocaust until he found the right characters and plot. Winner of the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk makes use of dry humor to depict the plight of Jewish children during the war.
Harrowing Tales of Murder, Revenge, and Guilt. When I was growing up, I was told that spirits continue to roam the earth when they have an unfinished business to take care of. Avrom Amos had some unfinished business. He decided to carry out his plot through second-rate American ventriloquist Freddie T. Birch, also known as The Great Freddie. Freddie’s role in the story was not by pure chance. He was a seargent during the war, and had an encounter with Avrom when he was alive.
In my readings, I try to stay away from Nazi-related YA books. Besides this, the other Nazi book I read and liked was Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. (I have yet to read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars.) I thought it was wise for Sid Fleischman to wait until he figured out how to present his Holocaust story. A dybbuk possessing a ventriloquist to share the terrible fate of Jewish children to the masses was brilliant. In a painful reminiscence, Avrom tells The Great Freddie what happened to his sister:
“They were SS child killers. They got a thick glass bottle from one of the motorcycle’s leather bags. While one soldier held Sulka down, the other rubbed a liquid from the bottle on her lips. They forced her to drink water out of a canteen. She began to scream in pain. She died, screaming for me. Me. I couldn’t rush out of hiding. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t hug her. I dream about it.” (p. 132)
There have been a lot of books published about the Holocaust. Yet, it is always nice to read about books that bear witness to the experiences of Jewish children. The Holocaust is both a horrifying and heartrending moment in world history. Through The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, Sid Fleischman is able to give Jewish children a voice, while he also preserves the Jewish sense of humor.
The video below appears to be a fan-made video trailer of The Entertainer and the Dybbuk.
Related Articles, Exhibits, and Student Guides.
1. Remembering Liberation – a WWII student activity guide.
2. Voices of the Holocaust: Children Speak – a University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute Exhibit. Includes a video presentation of the exhibit as well as an exhibit guide and a teacher guide.
3. Life in Shadows: Hidden Children and the Holocaust – A PDF file containing the narrative version of an exhibit and a study guide that goes with it.
4. Plight of Jewish Children – an exhibit by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
About Sid Fleischman
Sid Fleischman is the author of more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. His tales have been translated into nineteen languages. Among his many awards is the Newbery Medal for The Whipping Boy. (Taken from the back flap of the book.)
He is the father of Newbery Medal writer and poet Paul Fleischman, author of Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. They are the only father and son who won Newbery awards. Sid Fleischman died peacefully on March 17, 2010, a day after his 90th birthday. If you wish to know more about him, visit his colorful and magical website.
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk
by Sid Fleischman
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (Aug 2007)
Reading Level: Ages 9 and up
Book borrowed from the Chula Vista Public Library