My original plan was to feature only “Erika’s Story” and “Hiding Edith.” I was not sure how long it would take for the third book — “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” — to be available for pick up at the library. I was glad that the book arrived sooner than I expected. The books I am going to share with you today tell three remarkable stories of Jewish children who lived to tell the tale. I do not usually read books about the Holocaust but I am grateful that these books found their way into my hands.
Written by: Ruth Vander Zee
Illustrated by: Roberto Innocenti
Published by: Creative Editions (2003)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.
Let me begin this 3-in-1 GB special with the fabulous book by Ruth Vander Zee and Roberto Innocenti. Erika’s Story is as thick as your average picturebook (about 32 pages) but the actual story is only 16 pages long, 9 of which are devoted to illustrations. The text has multiple line spacing, which makes it easier to read despite the small font size.
Ruth Vander Zee met the protagonist of the story during the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. She and her husband were watching a clean-up crew in Rothenburg, Germany. Sitting next to her was a woman who was wearing a Star of David on a gold chain around her neck. The woman introduced herself as Erika, and she told Ruth how she could not bare to enter the concentration camp in Dachau.
Erika’s Story tells the simple yet poignant narrative of a mother’s deep love for her child. Erika did not have much to say at the beginning. As I read the following lines from the book, I found myself drawn to Erika’s remarkable life story.
I was born sometime in 1944.
I do not know my birthdate.
I do not know my birth name.
I do not know in what city or country I was born.
I do not know if I had brothers or sisters.
What I do know is that when I was just a few months old, I was saved from the Holocaust.
I don’t want to say any more than I should. I want you to discover the poetry embedded in Ruth Vander Zee’s writing that filled the pages of this book. The grim illustrations in Erika’s Story look like black-and-white photographs. They effectively capture the bittersweet memories of Erika. GatheringBooks is no stranger to Roberto Innocenti. Two years ago, Myra featured Rose Blanche, the award-winning Holocaust picturebook illustrated by Innocenti. I hope you find a copy of Erika’s Story and learn how Erika’s star manages to shine through to this day.
Written by: Kathy Kacer
Published by: Second Story Press (2006)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.
I randomly grabbed Hiding Edith from the children’s department when I picked up my holds from the library. I wasn’t too thrilled about the cover but I found Edith’s story interesting. It was noted in the book that Hiding Edith is “the true story of a young fugitive on the run.”
Edith Schwalb was among the thousands of Jewish children who were able to survive during Hitler’s reign by constantly moving from one place to another. Edith was the second of three children of Chaim and Magdalena Schwalb. Edith’s father was a famous soccer player in Vienna, Austria. This played an important role in Edith’s life. Edith and her father managed to escape a group of German police officers because one of them recognized Edith’s father and was a big fan. The officer whispered to them that they must leave Vienna immediately.
Two years after that incident, while Edith’s family was staying in Belgium in 1940, three Belgian police officers came to their house and asked for Edith’s father. They had orders to take all Jewish males for questioning. Edith’s father was released three days later, after Edith’s mother paid the Belgian police officers who had him detained. Around this time, Hitler has already invaded Belgium. The family had no choice but to move again.
Edith and her family settled in Beaumont-de-Lomagne, France because the place was considered a “free zone.” However, the President wanted to protect his own people so he collaborated with the Nazis in return for a proper treatment from them. In Charles Dickens’ words, “it was the worst of times.”
Edith’s head was spinning. She didn’t want to run again. She wanted to stay in one place, and with her family. It was so crazy, having to run all the time just because they were Jewish.
Edith’s mother decided that the safest place for Edith and her baby brother Gaston was a house in Moissac. It was a schoolhouse meant to protect Jewish children across Franc. The building was secretly opened by a French Jewish couple and they would receive money from the Jewish Scouts of France.
The book focuses on Edith’s life at Moissac, where she meets Sarah Kupfer, a girl like Edith who was also in hiding. Sarah was the one who explained to Edith that what made them a family there was because everyone’s story was the same.
There were several things that struck me in Hiding Edith. First, I found it incredible that an entire town, including the mayor, conspired to hide the children from the Nazis. It was a big sacrifice and certainly one that the French townspeople would pay for if they got caught. Second, the children played a dangerous game of hide-and-seek with the Nazis. There was no telling when the game would start or end for good. Third, it was rather painful for the Jewish children during these times to not only be separated from their families but also conceal their identity and hide their faith. They wanted freedom from the Nazis, yet the feeling that they could no longer live openly as Jews was not so liberating.
“You will be given new identities – new birthplaces, new names that are not Jewish. You will need to learn these names and answer to them as if you were born with them. All of this will take practice.” – Shatta, p. 90
As the story progressed, I learned to appreciate Hiding Edith. Although my family and I are scattered across the United States – and my mom still living in the Philippines – I feel fortunate that I do not have to live in hiding or change my identity. Hiding Edith makes me appreciate these little things that I would not normally pay attention to. Hiding Edith does not only tell Edith’s story but that of the thousands of courageous Jewish children who escaped from the Nazis and survived.
Written by: Judith Kerr
Published by: Scholastic (1971)
Book borrowed from Hudson Library & Historical Society.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit tells the story of a Jewish family who left their home in Berlin several days before Hitler was elected in 1933. The events in the book were based on author Judith Kerr’s own experiences as a child during the second World War. I immediately fell in love with the title of the book. After reading the story of Anna and her family, I consider When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit as one of the best war-themed books I have read this year.
Anna and her family were Jewish but they were not strictly religious. Anna’s father was a famous writer. (Judith Kerr’s father, Albert Kerr, was one of Berlin’s most important drama critics before the war broke out.) A policeman who loved Anna’s father’s books called one night to warn her father that his passport might be taken away. He caught the earliest train to Prague and told his family to meet him in Switzerland.
The day before the family left for their trip, Anna was trying to decide which stuffed toy to bring with her to Switzerland: a pink rabbit or a woolly dog. She could only bring one, and she chose to take the latter. When Hitler was elected in power, the Nazis had confiscated Anna’s family’s property in Berlin.
Anna tried to imagine it. The piano was gone… the dining-room curtains with the flowers… her bed… all her toys which included her stuffed Pink Rabbit. For a moment, she felt terribly sad about Pink Rabbit. It had had embroidered black eyes—the original glass ones had fallen out years before—and an endearing habit of collapsing on its paws. Its fur, though no longer very pink, had been soft and familiar. How could she ever have chosen to pack that characterless woolly dog in its stead? It had been a terrible mistake, and now she would never be able to put it right. (p. 47)
Anna’s life in Switzerland was different from her life in Berlin. Back in Berlin, Anna’s father was famous, and her family had a nanny named Heimpi who worked for them. In Switzerland—and later in France—no one would publish Anna’s father’s work. It was hard to earn money. Because they could not afford a nanny, Anna’s family had to get by on their own. Anna’s mother, who did not have to do chores in Berlin, had to do the cleaning, cooking (she burned their food a few times), sewing (which she knew nothing about), and grocery shopping for the family. On top of all these, the family had to learn how to speak a new language every time. Yet, for a girl so young and innocent, Anna thought it seemed rather fine and adventurous to be a refugee—to have no home and not to know where one was going to be.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit traces the life of Anna and her family in Berlin, then Switzerland, then France, and, finally, England. Avid readers of books about war might think that Anna’s story was told in rose-colored glasses, that it merely touched on the difficult life that refugees had during the war. I find it rather brilliant that Judith Kerr used humor to lighten things up a bit. There was no dull moment in the book for me, and it was the kind of story I could read again and again. Moreover, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is an autobiographical work that is perfect for young readers.
P.S. Here’s my favorite scene in the book.
“Why did you chase her?” Mama was asking. “Why did you all throw [rocks and shoes] at her? What had she done?”
The bandy-legged boy looked hopelessly at Mama. Then he blushed and mumbled something.
“What?” said Mama.
Suddenly, the bandy-legged boy grew desperate.
“Because we love her!” he shouted at the top of his voice. “We did it because we love her!”
Neither [Mama nor Anna] could understand. But when, later, they consulted Max he did not seem very surprised.
“It’s what they do here,” he said. “When they’re in love with anyone, they throw things at them… Really Anna should feel honoured.” (pp. 60-61)