The ways in which literature can be used by parents and educators to engage young readers in a conversation about the Holocaust are demonstrated in two recently published books. Rescuing the Children: The Story of the Kindertransport by Deborah Hodge and Hana’s Suitcase: Anniversary Album by Karen Levine invite the reader to examine not only how the Holocaust impacted children at the time at which it was occurring, but also how its legacy has impacted the lives of children who are continuing to learn about the cruelties of World War II today.
As the title suggests, Rescuing the Children examines the experiences of children during the Kindertransport; notably, it also includes the reflections of eight elderly individuals decades after the war. Similarly, the Anniversary Album examines the life of Hana Brady as well as the experiences of children who have learned about her legacy decades after her death. With their layered perspectives, Rescuing the Children and the Anniversary Album will make valuable and affecting contributions to personal and educational collections of children’s books about the Holocaust.
Rescuing the Children opens with a Foreward by Irene N. Watts in which she describes her memories of what it was like to be a part of the Kindertransport. Watts shares her childhood confusion about Nazi restrictions on Jewish citizens, the fear she felt as Hitler’s policies touched her family, and her lack of understanding about the implications of what it meant to leave her home for England at the age of seven. It is notable that, although the arc of Watts’ story is echoed in the life stories of many of the eight children who are profiled in Rescuing the Children, Hodge emphasizes how these children and their families experienced the Kindertransport and its aftermath in different ways. In order to allow the reader to engage with the nuances of each story, Hodge includes childhood photographs of each of the profiled individuals and intersperses quotations by each individual throughout the text. In addition, by including sections that provide an overview of key issues related to the Kindertransport, she situates the personal stories that she profiles in a wider historical context. As the dust jacket describes, the book also contains archival photographs and art that was created by children who were a part of the Kindertransport. Paintings and drawings by Hans Jackson and squares from a quilt depicting scenes related to the transport are included in the book as well.
Hodge’s combination of written and visual elements will allow parents, educators, and young readers to enter into interesting discussions about the different ways in which stories about the Kindertransport have been represented and preserved. In addition, to allow for further explorations of its subject matter, Rescuing the Children ends with an examination of how the Kindertransport has been memorialized, a glossary of “Words to Know,” a “Map of the Route of the Kindertransport,” a detailed “Timeline” of events, and a “Note to Parents and Teachers,” which includes a list of resources for both children and adults. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book, however, is the section in which the eight profiled children are presented in later life. Seeing children who were part of the Kindertransport as senior citizens will hopefully encourage young readers to listen attentively to the elderly individuals in their own lives who experienced the war. In turn, the profiled individuals’ reflections on what it must have been like for their parents to choose to send their children on the Kindertransport will cause parents to pause and reflect as well.
Hana’s Suitcase first aired as a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio documentary in 2001 and was published in book form in 2002. Notably, Hana’s Suitcase: Anniversary Album contains the original text, in which Levine layers the stories of Hana Brady, a young girl from Nové Města na Moravě, Czechoslovakia, who was taken to Theresienstadt in 1942 and perished in Auschwitz two years later at the age of thirteen, and Fumiko Ishioka, an educator at the Tokyo Holocaust Center, who uncovered Hana’s story at the turn of the twenty-first century. However, this updated edition also contains a plethora of supplementary material including a Foreword by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, an account by Karen Levine entitled “A Remarkable Decade” in which she discusses the process of preserving Hana’s story in book form, reflections by Fumiko Ishioka and Hana’s brother George Brady on the impact of Hana’s story, a section entitled “Before the Suitcase: Memories of Hana,” in which individuals from Nové Města na Moravě describe their memories of the Brady family before the war, and a section that contains letters from readers. The book also includes information on translations of Hana’s Suitcase, as well as information on a play, two documentaries, and a film about Hana that have been created since 2001. In addition, it contains a variety of sections that document book’s educational role and impact. The section “Things You Can Do,” which is similar to the “Note to Parents and Teachers” in Rescuing the Children, includes suggestions and resources for readers about how young readers can engage with Hana’s story. Other sections that include children’s artistic responses to learning about Hana may inspire readers to create artistic responses of their own as well. (The inclusion of this material is especially poignant since drawings that were created by Hana in Theresienstadt are also included in the book.) Finally, the Anniversary Album includes a CD of Karen Levine’s original CBC documentary, which will allow young readers, parents, and educators to engage with Hana’s story in different forms. As this varied material demonstrates, and as is noted in the “Welcome to the Album” and elsewhere in the book, the Anniversary Album is an important record of the lasting impact that Hana’s story has had on children in an international context.
Rescuing the Children: The Story of the Kindertransport and Hana’s Suitcase: Anniversary Album preserve children’s wartime stories for future generations, while challenging young readers to reflect upon their own perceptions of learning about the Holocaust and encouraging intergenerational dialogues about the impacts of war. Through their form and content, these works create an important link between the past and the present that will allow another generation of young readers to begin to understand both the ongoing effects of the Holocaust and the scope of what was lost.