We Must Not For­get: Holo­caust Sto­ries of Sur­vival and Resistance

  • Review
By – May 3, 2021

Deb­o­rah Hopkinson’s account of Jews who man­aged to sur­vive and even work against the atroc­i­ties of the Holo­caust includes many pho­tographs. The first one appears before the title page, set­ting the tone for this col­lec­tion. It shows sev­er­al mem­bers of the War­saw Ghet­to resis­tance being arrest­ed by SS troops. Most raise their hands over their heads, but one man has instead raised his fist as an anti-fas­cist sym­bol of sol­i­dar­i­ty and defi­ance…”, accord­ing to the cap­tion. Hop­kin­son has writ­ten her book with a spe­cif­ic edu­ca­tion­al pur­pose in mind: doc­u­ment­ing, explain­ing, and ele­vat­ing Jews’ strug­gles for sur­vival in Nazi Ger­many and the hero­ism of Jew­ish resis­tance. She care­ful­ly presents the odds against suc­cess for those choos­ing this path and she acknowl­edges the role of chance in any one individual’s life. There are no philo­soph­i­cal the­o­ries or reli­gious state­ments of faith in her deeply respect­ful chron­i­cle of courage, only sto­ries of spe­cif­ic peo­ple and the cir­cum­stances that deter­mined their respons­es to terror.

Rather than mere­ly depict­ing a con­nect­ed series of per­son­al mem­o­ries, the book forms a com­pre­hen­sive method for teach­ing young read­ers about the Holo­caust through the lens of spe­cif­ic encoun­ters and their out­comes. In a Dear Read­er” let­ter at the begin­ning of the book, Hop­kin­son estab­lish­es her pur­pose and offers a clear intro­duc­tion to the book’s struc­ture. Each sec­tion focus­es on one geo­graph­i­cal area: Ger­many and the Nether­lands, France, and Poland. The key indi­vid­u­als at the core of each sec­tion are pre­sent­ed in brief biogra­phies before the sec­tion begins. Through­out the book, blocks of text with links to addi­tion­al resources are marked as Look, Lis­ten, Remem­ber.” With­in each chap­ter, mean­ing­ful sub­ti­tles, often drawn from the sur­vivors’ words, help to ori­ent the reader.

This ambi­tious book does not pre­sume that read­ers bring pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of its sub­ject. There are lists of key dates, numer­ous pho­tographs with detailed cap­tions, and thor­ough his­tor­i­cal back­ground mate­r­i­al inte­grat­ed into the sur­vivors’ sto­ries. Read­ers learn about the War­saw Ghet­to and the upris­ing orga­nized there as well read­ing the tes­ti­mo­ny of dif­fer­ent indi­vid­u­als who played a role. Cer­tain sur­vivors had unusu­al expe­ri­ences, such as those who remained con­cealed with­in Ger­many and oth­ers who were pro­tect­ed by the famous Biel­s­ki broth­ers, Jew­ish par­ti­sans who hid in the for­est. When Paula Burg­er refers to Tuvia Biel­s­ki as a giant of a man,” she recounts not only the phys­i­cal impres­sion he made but the enor­mous lega­cy of Jew­ish strength that the book’s accounts col­lec­tive­ly memorialize.

Hop­kin­son does not avoid dif­fi­cult issues, although she frames them in a way that young read­ers can process. The Jew­ish coun­cils, orga­nized by the Nazis to facil­i­tate the process of geno­cide, faced seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble choic­es. The author gives many exam­ples of Jew­ish coun­cil mem­bers who did their best to sub­vert the Nazis’ plans. She also relates how Adam Czer­ni­akow, the head of the Jew­ish Coun­cil in the War­saw ghet­to, took his own life rather than enable the depor­ta­tions of his fel­low Jews. The ago­niz­ing deci­sions forced upon par­ents in order to pro­tect their chil­dren also fea­ture in many of the sur­vivors’ mem­o­ries, but so does the emo­tion­al sup­port that those par­ents offered even as they faced their own deaths. When Chel­la Velt recalls her father’s words before they said good­bye for­ev­er, Hop­kin­son intu­its that “[h]is strength and love sus­tained her for her entire life.”

While many non-Jew­ish Ger­man, Dutch, French, and Pol­ish peo­ple col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Nazis, either eager­ly or through indif­fer­ence, oth­ers risked their lives to shel­ter Jews and chal­lenge Nazi author­i­ty. Hop­kin­son is hon­est about the sta­tis­tics — there were more enablers than pro­tec­tors in Ger­many and the occu­pied coun­tries — but she also describes the almost unbe­liev­able hero­ism of those who made moral choic­es in a cli­mate of hatred nur­tured by cen­turies of anti­semitism. Every sur­vivor who ben­e­fit­ed by this human­i­ty express­es great rev­er­ence for those who defied the norm.

Sur­vivor and his­to­ri­an Jacob Press­er artic­u­lates the book’s objec­tive most clear­ly in the intro­duc­to­ry sec­tion: The dead must be able to speak…and any­one who lets the dead remain silent allows them to die twice, and I have sim­ply refused to per­mit that.” Hop­kin­son lets the dead as well as the remain­ing liv­ing speak in strong and clear voices.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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