Powerful Adolescent Girls

Tragedy, courage, chance, loss and healing, fear and hope— women who survived the Holocaust as youngsters are telling their stories for young readers. Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan (Greenwillow, 1996); Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer (Atheneum, 1995); Hiding to Survive edited by Maxine B. Rosenberg (Clarion, 1994); and The Holocaust Lady by Ruth Minsky Sender (Macmillan, 1992) are recent examples. These join memoirs such as Aranka Siegal’s Upon the Head of the Goat, Johanna Reiss’s The Upstairs Room; Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe and Judith Kerr’s fictionalized autobiography When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, in documenting, with great spirit, this terrible chapter of human history, which we read about in The Diary of Anne Frank.

Young readers apprehensive about this subject can approach it with some of their most beloved novelists. In Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (Bantam, 1977) Sally, in 1947 Florida, is certain that an elderly neighbor is Hitler in disguise and determines to help capture him. In Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic (Puffin, 1990), a bored Hannah Stern opens the door at her family seder in Brooklyn, circa 1990, to step into a Polish shtetl in 1942 on the eve of a Nazi roundup.

Several authors who are not Jewish also write about the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism, these authors are saying, is not only the problem of Jews, but of those who hate them, and of those who witness that hate. Eve Bunting’s picture book Terrible Things (Jewish Publication Society, 1989) is an allegorical treatment. Novelist Lois Lowry in Number the Stars (Dell, 1989) tells of brave ten-year-old girlfriends in Denmark, one from a righteous gentile family who helps her family and others escape the Nazis. And Laura Williams tells of a thirteen-year-old Hitler Youth group member who discovers her parents are hiding a Jewish family—Behind the Bedroom Wall (Milkweed, 1996).

It’s no surprise that a post-Holocaust generation of powerful adolescent Jewish girls are portrayed in fiction set in Israel. Feminism (females are human) and Zionism (Jews are human), are woven seamlessly in Israeli author Gila Almagor’s Under the Domim Tree (Simon and Schuster, 1995). The female protagonist shares the growing pains of young survivors at a residential school who, having lost the important grownups in their lives, learn to be family to each other. In Nessa Rapoport’s Preparing for Sabbath (Biblio Press—currently out of print), a religious teenage girl in the maelstrom of the 1970’s searches for love and spirituality in the Holy Land. And Lynne Reid Banks brings us, in Broken Bridge (William Morrow, 1993), a young Canadian immigrant to Israel, Nili, who explores complicated issues of Israeli- Arab co-existence through her controversial decision to keep a secret.

Historical fiction of an earlier period, not to be missed, includes Miriam Chaiken’s I Should Worry, I Should Care (Harper, 1979), set in Brooklyn; Karen Hesse’s A Time of Angels (Hyperion, 1995), set in the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic; and Johanna Hurwitz’s The Rabbi’s Girls (Morrow, 1982) set in the 1920’s in the American Midwest. Real life role models spring from biographies such as Betty Friedan: Fighter for Women’s Rights (Enslow, 1990) by Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz, Our Golda (Viking, 1986) by David Adler, and Molly Picon: A Gift of Laughter (Jewish Publication Society, 1990) by Lila Perl.