The ProsenPeople

Where Are All the Happy Jewish Stories?

Thursday, December 07, 2017 | Permalink

Sacha Lamb is a part-time librarian, part-time student, and part-time YA writer and reader. She is blogging here as part of Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

A few weeks ago, I accepted an opportunity to return for one day to the ancestral Jewish homeland—New York City—for the Jewish Book Council’s annual Children’s Literature Seminar. I was invited on the basis that as a debut author through an independent, online publisher, I could offer a unique perspective for the author panel, which was otherwise composed of traditionally-published writers. I was excited to attend my first event as an author, and excited to hear from authors, editors, publicists and librarians, all of them offering Jewish perspectives on publishing.

The conference was an excellent welcome to the world of Jewish books, affirming not only of my status as a “real Jewish author,” but also of feelings, both positive and negative, that I have had toward the world of Jewish children’s literature, YA in particular. A major takeaway for me was that the need for universal marketing creates a gap between Jewish authors and Jewish readers when it comes to themes in children’s fiction—but authors and readers are, so to speak, on the same page, and we shouldn’t let our frustration keep us from telling the stories we need to tell.

Major publishers are reluctant to bring out books that would be termed “Jewish interest” if they don’t have a message that can be marketed outside of the Jewish community, because we represent such a small segment of the population. Unfortunately the easiest “Jewish issue” to market outside of the Jewish community is the Holocaust—it’s on school curricula, a major selling point. Both Jewish authors and Jewish readers express frustration over the lack of Jewish-themed books that aren’t about the Holocaust, and these frustrations surfaced at the conference, both from authors and from librarians and the representatives from Jewish book award panels. What we heard from our editors’ panel was that books need to sell, and even if Jews don’t want to read about the Holocaust, it does sell—to the much larger market of non-Jewish readers.

Even from the perspective of the editors, though, this wasn’t an entirely uncomplicated issue. While one editor emphasized the need for “universal” appeal in Jewish books, which often does translate to lessons about oppression, another added that her house is likely not to pick up new Holocaust-themed fiction, because their backlist is already stuffed with bestselling authors on the topic. What editors really want are original, fresh stories that have a lesson in them which can appeal to any audience—stories about family, stories about taking care of the environment, stories about learning to get along with others. These are all stories that can be written from a Jewish perspective and still connect with non-Jewish readers. The Holocaust is not the only Jewish experience that holds universal lessons, and we should not stop fighting to prove it.

As authors, we are frustrated by the idea that our happy Jewish stories don’t appeal to a non-Jewish audience; as readers, we are frustrated by the lack of happy Jewish stories. Our joy is as valuable as our genocide. And I am happy to say that there are signs that the market is beginning to understand this: for instance, a few of this year’s new Young Adult releases, such as The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli and The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, feature loving Jewish families, the former in the context of a romantic comedy (with a fat teen girl protagonist and a love interest whose spelling of God as “G-d” is one of the things that makes him cute!) and the latter in the context of collective memories—touching on the Holocaust without exclusively relying on it. And next year sees the anthology It’s a Whole Spiel with Laura Silverman and Katherine Locke as editors, entirely composed of Jewish contemporary stories by Jewish authors. The work isn’t finished—but it has begun. I am excited to be part of it, and grateful to the Jewish Book Council for assuring me that I am.

Sacha Lamb is a part-time librarian, part-time goat-herder, and part-time writer of queer Jewish magic realism for teens. As a teenager, Sacha loved YA fantasy, but never felt represented in it as a gay, transgender reader. Now a graduate student in library science, Sacha is dedicated to creating stories for other kids who need to know that they are magic. Sacha can be found online @mosslamb on Twitter.

Six Neglected Holocaust Narratives to Preorder for Fall 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees

“To the Nazis, Freda Wineman’s crime was simple,” Laurence Rees’s new study of the Holocaust opens. “She was Jewish.” As a writer, filmmaker, and former Creative Director of the BBC TV History series, Rees has been the driving force behind historical literature and television programs on the Holocaust in Britain. In his newest work, Rees tackles the prevailing question of contemporary Holocaust studies—how and why did the Holocaust happen?—from a deeply human perspective, balancing historical analysis with 25 years of unpublished testimony from survivors and perpetrators of the Third Reich and the Shoah, polished and presented in Rees’s compelling prose. Wading through the individual stories of the people he has encountered over the course of his career as a historical documentarian, Rees imbues this new chronology of the darkest period in modern European history with the personal narratives—and human empathy—that are too often missing from contemporary Holocaust research.

Saving One’s Own: Jewish Rescuers During
the Holocaust
by Mordecai Paldiel



Saved from the Holocaust with his family as a young child by Simon Galley, a Catholic priest who abetted Jews in crossing the Swiss border, Mordecai Paldiel headed Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations through the turn of the twenty-first century, adding approximately 18,000 names to the roster of non-Jewish rescuers honored by Israel’s national Holocaust monument and research center. In the process of this noble work, Paldiel discovered the stories of Jewish resistors who helped their clansmen escape Europe. Feeling that a significant narrative of heroism in the face of the Shoah and the Nazi occupation has remained neglected, upon retiring from his position at Yad Vashem Paldiel dedicated himself to chronicling the stories of Jewish rescuers who risked their own lives to remain where they could conduct operations to smuggle other Jews to safety. Focusing on different regions by chapter, Paldiel introduces a wide cast of previously unacknowledged saviors, from underground network agents to partisan fighters to a Berlin rebbetzin who facilitated the safe passage of thousands of Jewish German children to Palestine.

Stealth Altruism: Forbidden Care as Jewish
Resistance in the Holocaust
by Arthur B. Shostak



Exploring another neglected narrative of Jewish resistance in the Holocaust, Arthur B. Shostak redefines the very concept of heroism to include the acts of caring for others in an environment of evil and terror. Exploring the unrecognized instances of forbidden kindness among victims of the Nazi camps—holding weak neighbors up at roll call, switching tasks with prisoners assigned to hard labor details, sharing food and clothing—Shostak reveals the largely untold history of humanity at the darkest moments of the Shoah. The author also shares some of his research findings, interviews with survivors, and Holocaust memorial and education centers at www.stealthaltruism.com.

Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots
Against Hollywood and America
by Steven. J. Ross



While the United States trained its law enforcement agencies’ focus on Soviets and communists, the plots and activities of Nazi operatives on American soil in the early 1930s went unnoticed but for one vigilante spy ring headed by Hollywood attorney Leon Lewis, “the most dangerous Jew in Los Angeles” as the Nazis would come to call him. Viewing Hollywood as the greatest propaganda machine in the world—and eying key military positions and armories along the Pacific Coast—the Nazis planned out a siege of Los Angeles, plotting to massacre the city’s Jews and hang twenty of Hollywood’s brightest stars. From 1933 through the end of World War II, Lewis and his network of military veterans—and their wives—infiltrated all Nazi and fascist activities in the City of Angels, uncovering and snuffing out the Nazi’s sinister plot to destroy Los Angeles.

Textual Silence: Unreadability and the Holocaust
by Jessica Lang



Sidestepping Theodor Adorno’s famous aphorism, “To write poetry after the Holocaust is barbaric,” Jessica Lang questions whether Holocaust literature across form and style can or even should translate the Nazi genocide to those who did not experience it themselves. Defining the expression of the limitations and barriers of language to adequately convey the horror and trauma of those who survived—blank spaces, trailing punctuation, italic, and narrative interruptions—as “textual silence,” Lang claims these critical breaks in poetry, novels, diaries, and memoirs as essential characteristics of the genre.

For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian

Originally published under his penname in 1934, Iosif Mendel Hechter’s diary of Romania’s nascent antisemitism—growing increasingly rampant together with Hitler’s popularity in Germany and his installation as chancellor the year before—highlights the violence and injustices committed against Jewish populations throughout Europe, even within intellectual circles and institutions of higher education, long before the war began. Sebastian describes scampering around his university campus in Bucharest to avoid beatings on his way to lectures and discovering that even his closest friends and comrades believed the antisemitic propaganda proliferating throughout the continent—including the beloved mentor Sebastian asked to write the preface to this very book, which Sebastian nonetheless included in the original publication out of spite:

It is an assimilationist illusion, it is the illusion of so many Jews who sincerely believe that they are Romanian… Remember that you are Jewish!... Are you Iosif Hechter, a human being from Brăila on the Danube? No, you are a Jew from Brăila on the Danube.

Recalling the widespread adoption and impact of such beliefs—and what they led to—seems especially important in wake of recent statements made in by the White House press secretary two weeks ago, drawing condemnation from Jewish organizations and scholars, including Deborah Lipstadt.

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Reading List: CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Monday, April 24, 2017 | Permalink

My name is Eva Mozes Kor. I am a survivor of Auschwitz, a survivor of human medical experimentation on twins by Dr. Josef Mengele, and now, I am trying to survive old age. As the founding director of CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, a human rights champion, internationally known author and speaker, and advocate for the power of forgiveness, I am recommending these books because they help us understand how the Nazis rose to power, what happened to many Jews and how they survived the death camps, and how the survivors coped afterwards.

As we come together on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Auschwitz Liberation Day, this list of books is geared to help us remember, but also to further understand the circumstances around the Holocaust at that time and how survivors moved forward with their lives.

If you’re looking for a book that discusses Nazi collaborators in our midst…
1) AMERICAN SWASTIKA by Charles Higham

If you’re looking for a book that discusses The Nazi-American money plot…
2) TRADING WITH THE ENEMY by Charles Higham

If you’re looking for a book that discusses America's recruitment of Nazis and its disastrous effect…
3) BLOWBACK by Christopher Simpson

If you’re looking for a book that discusses Hitler's Alliance with Germany's great chemical companies…
4) THE CRIME & PUNISHMENT OF I.G. FARBEN (BASF) by Joseph Borkin.

If you’re looking for a book that gives you an insider’s perspective of Dr. Josef Mengele…
5) A DOCTOR'S EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT by Miklos Nyiszli

If you’re looking for a book that showcases the unconditional faith in human beings' ability to heal…
6) MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Dr. Victor E. Frankl

If you’re looking for a book that provides a 10-year-old’s unfiltered perspective of Auschwitz and shows young people that we can overcome many hardships in life and even triumph over disaster….
7) SURVIVING THE ANGEL OF DEATH by Eva Mozes Kor & Lisa Rojany Buccieri

If you’re looking for a book that provides early childhood education about prejudice…
8) LITTLE EVA & MIRIAM IN FIRST GRADE by Eva Mozes Kor

If you’re looking for a book that provides information about the twins’ perspective as guinea pigs of Dr. Josef Mengele...
9) ECHOES FROM AUSCHWITZ by Eva Mozes Kor

If you’re looking for a book that shares the story of a Sunderkomando working for 3 yrs. in the gas chambers…
10) EYE WITNESS IN AUSCHWITZ by Filip Muller

If you’re looking for a book that goes into detail concerning Nazi Eugenics to create a perfect race…
11) MURDEROUS SCIENCE by Beno Muller Hill

If you’re looking for a book about a 17 year old who escaped Auschwitz to alert the world, but the world didn't believe him…
12) I CANNOT FORGIVE by Rudolf Vrba


You can learn more about Eva Mozes Kor by visiting www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org, following her on Twitter at @evamozeskor.

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Jimmy Fallon Reads Man's Search for Meaning

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Arie Monas

A couple of weeks ago, Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, tripped on a rug in his kitchen and fell. Initially, he believed it was an ordinary fall but as he got himself up, he saw that his finger was sideways. He was rushed to the emergency room and was then transferred to Bellevue hospital to have surgery done on his finger after being told he had a ring avulsion. The doctor operated on Fallon for six hours, leaving him in the intensive care unit of the hospital for ten days. Fallon had to keep himself busy while in the hospital, so he started reading the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

Written during World War II, Frankl describes his experiences as a prisoner in the concentration camp, Auschwitz, and how he came up with a purpose in life to feel positive about to keep him going. The question we all have is why Jimmy Fallon, whose job as a comedian is to make people laugh, was reading a very serious book. Frankl describes what it was like being a prisoner in Auschwitz, and Fallon was able to relate to his message given his state of being. He was lying in a hospital bed, away from what he likes doing most, and felt like a prisoner. He wanted to get out of the hospital; as he advised his viewers, “Get out of that hospital, get out,” urging them that they will be fine. While reading the book, Fallon found the true meaning of his life, which is to be on television and to talk to people who are at home or at a hospital and making them laugh. Upon finishing the book, Fallon said, “I absolutely loved it.”

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An Introduction to Jan Karski

Friday, April 17, 2015 | Permalink

by Joshua Muravchik

Few individuals risked more to try to save the Jews from the Holocaust than Jan Karski, and yet what makes his actions most amazing was that the cause of the Jews was secondary to his mission. That mission was to save Poland, and in itself it was a desperate, overwhelming, death-defying struggle that took every ounce of strength, courage, and wit that could be summoned by the Polish patriots who consecrated their lives to it.

A young officer at the time of the Nazi conquest, Jan Kozielewski quickly enrolled in the resistance that spring up almost at once among the occupied Poles, and he was given the first of a string of aliases of which the last, Jan Karski, remained with him the rest of his life. His photographic memory qualified him as a courier because he had a rare ability to recite verbatim long messages that he could convey among the Underground’s political and military leaders without carrying any incriminating document. His missions included travel across the length of the Third Reich to carry communications between the leaders inside Poland and the official Polish government in exile, based in London.

On one of these missions, he was captured and subjected to such tortures by the Gestapo that he chose to take his own life for fear he would succumb to the pain and betray his comrades. This choice reflected the character of a man who lived by the categorical imperative to do the right thing regardless of cost. He found a razor blade discarded by a guard and slit both wrists, but before the life had drained out of him he was discovered and his wounds bandaged. He was put under guard in a hospital to recover so that the Gestapo could resume his interrogation cum torture. But such was his importance to the Underground that a heroic operation was mounted to wrest him from his captors. In retaliation the Nazis executed some twenty to thirty-five (accounts vary) nurses, doctors, and priests associated with the hospital. That others died on his account tormented him to his last days, although the operation was not his choice: indeed his liberators had orders to kill him if they could not succeed in extracting him.

Once free, and given a little time to recuperate from is self-inflected injuries, Karski insisted on returning to his work in the Underground. The risk was now multiplied. The Gestapo knew of him, and the scars on his wrist were a sure mark of his identity. Nonetheless the Underground resumed giving him vital assignments because his gift was rare, and life was cheap.

As he prepared for another mission to London, in 1942, Karski was approached—with the approval of his superiors—by leaders of secret Jewish organizations and asked if he would be willing to shoulder the additional assignment of informing British and American officials, as well as Jewish leaders in the West, that the Jews of Poland were being not merely persecuted but systematically exterminated. Moreover, they said that his message would be all the more compelling if he could be an eye witness. Karski agreed, and he was smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto for several hours, a stroll through hell. A few days later he was taken a second time. Then, to top it off, he was insinuated, disguised as a Ukrainian guard who was bribed to lend his uniform, into a camp. Karski believed it was the death camp at Belzec, but later research suggested that it was a temporary facility where some Jews were murdered on the spot, others shipped to larger extermination camps.

Then Karski succeeded in his stealthy infiltration to London and where he recounted what he had seen to Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and to Jewish leaders. From there, he sailed for Washington where he repeated his stories to President Roosevelt and various prominent individuals. All, devastatingly, to no visible effect. FDR pressed him, as Karski later related on film with a bitter straight face, not about the Jews but about whether the Nazis had appropriated many Polish horses for their invasion of the USSR. And Justice Felix Frankfurter, arguably the highest ranking Jew in America, heard him out and then replied: “I cannot believe what you are telling me.”

His main mission, to liberate Poland, was lost as his homeland was freed from the Nazis only by a new conqueror. And his ancillary mission, to alert the world to the Holocaust, came to naught. To express his unbearable frustration at having been ignored, he took a vow not to speak of these events again, and made a new life as an exile in the United States. He broke the vow only after 30-odd years when he was discovered by Claude Lanzmann who was making his epic documentary, Shoah, and cajoled Karski into recounting his experience.

Karski can be seen on film, being interviewed in his Washington apartment. Punctiliously dressed, as was his habit, he begins: “Now I go back 35 years,” he says. Then he cannot go on: “No, I don’t go back.” Collapsing into sobs, he rises and walks off camera to collect himself before returning to continue.



After breaking his silence for Lanzmann, Karski spoke about these unspeakable happenings again often, and became a great tribune against anti-Semitism. Eventually he was given the rare recognition of honorary citizenship of Israel although he remained a devout Catholic all this life. The Jews were not his primary cause, but he was a man of such rare rectitude that when he saw what was being done to them, he gave everything he had to try to stop it. And yet, he once told a mostly-student audience at Georgetown University, where he taught, that he believed he would have to answer to God for not having done enough.

Read more about Jan Karski in the book Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World (Jan Karski).

Joshua Muravchik is the author of Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel.

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Why Do We Publish Picture Books About the Holocaust for Young Children?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 | Permalink

by Marcia Weiss Posner

Editor’s Note: We are frequently asked by parents, teachers, and others a perplexing question: At which age and at which stage it is appropriate to introduce books about the Holocaust to young children? Publishers’ suggested age ranges for their materials vary and do not always seem to match the content they present in the pages of their books. This is often reflected within our reviews, with our reviewers noting that while a book may have great value in many ways and may be filled with beautiful art or poetic language, it is not necessarily right for its intended age group. With so many children’s books on the Holocaust being published in the past few years, it’s become a confusing issue which has led to a staggering number of inquiries. Therefore, we decided to consult an expert in the field of Holocaust literature for her take on this important topic.

Before we present books to children from ages 4-8 on a subject such as the Holocaust, we should provide stories about playing fairly, choosing sides, bullying, and standing up for a classmate or animal that is being mistreated. Each person passes through learning stages depending on physical and mental characteristics and upon the interaction of individual and environmental factors like whether they have become familiarized with the concepts of taking sides, helping a weaker being,bullying, etc. Developmental and emotional maturity of children vary because of the above, and according to age. Even when the words of stories are able to be read by bright younger children, that does not mean that analytical and critical thought is present. It occurs later, by Grade Five at the earliest, for the brightest, most mature students. It depends on their schooling, reading ability, home experiences and the communities in which they live. We can give children books on parent figures and children being mistreated by other adults, but not until they are at least 10 years of age. There are several stages to understanding what one is reading and why the action is happening. Why do we think that children under 10 or 12 are ready for this? The next step in reading incorporates more than one point of view and includes motivation for the action and the fuller development of the characters in the story. The reader has to be able to deal with the layers of facts and add concepts to those acquired earlier. Usually, this begins in early high school.

So why are we writing, illustrating, reviewing and buying books on a subject that belongs at the earliest for a child of ten years old for younger children? There are at least five recent picture books of stories about concentration camps, beautifully written and illustrated. They are not for the picture book group (3-6 or 4-8), but for children from the age of ten and up, who are well able to read full length books and may not read picture books. Authors write and illustrators draw and publishers publish stories about the Holocaust for children who are not ready to receive them to make money, and we all fall into their trap. Some of them are lovely and well done, but in my opinion, premature.

Often books of this type are used by teachers of older children when they present the Holocaust in the classroom. In that setting, they have a more practical use. Books of this type are perfect to use with children of ages 10-14 as the language used in these books is usually too mature for picture book readers but just right for slightly older children. A photograph is more static. The illustrations in these books utilize color and other tools of art to communicate danger, despair, fright, and soon—values that are not communicated in photographs, but that impact older children immediately. Straight text communicates facts. Picture story books communicate feelings as the illustrations enter their emotional portal.

The message is that when teaching the Holocaust, start with a picture story book for any age. It readies the children emotionally to learn more about this topic.

Marcia W. Posner, Ph.D., of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, is the library and program director, and author of the play Smoke and Mirrors: Delusion and Despair: The Story of Terezin, now on tour among Long Island Public Libraries as a follow-up to the best selling novel The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman.

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