Wrath Becomes Her

  • Review
By – October 30, 2023

There are many Holo­caust books on the mar­ket for YA read­ers. And while this one takes place dur­ing WWII, it is not a typ­i­cal Holo­caust book. Root­ed in folk­lore and mys­ti­cism, Wrath Becomes Her cen­ters on Jew­ish fight­ers and insists on survival.

Chaya, a par­ti­san fight­er in Lithua­nia in 1943, is only six­teen when she is killed by a Nazi. After her body is brought back to her father’s farm, her father finds an out­let for his rage and grief. With the help of kishuf, a kind of pro­fane mag­ic, he cre­ates a golem in her image, with the sole pur­pose of unleash­ing vengeance. Using Chaya’s teeth, eyes, nails, and hair, Vera comes to life. The dead must be buried whole,” her father says. But if God is here, he is not lis­ten­ing. There is only you now, Vera.”

Vera reunites with Aki­va, her fel­low par­ti­san fight­er, and togeth­er they cre­ate a plan for revenge. She explains, Aki­va had called me a memo­r­i­al, but I swore to myself I would become more than that. I would be the Jew that the Nazis couldn’t kill. I would show them and their col­lab­o­ra­tors that when they slaugh­tered inno­cent girls deep in the for­est, those girls some­times came back. And if they want­ed to spill blood, blood was what they’d get.”

But this is more than a revenge sto­ry: it is also about how, when com­mu­ni­ties and indi­vid­u­als do noth­ing in the face of cru­el­ty, they even­tu­al­ly become com­plic­it in ter­ri­ble acts, includ­ing geno­cide. And they do not just enable these acts, but jus­ti­fy them. The nov­el also high­lights the impor­tance of mak­ing room for emo­tions oth­er than anger, so as not to let our rage engulf us completely.

Many authors of Holo­caust books for teens focus on the hero­ism of non-Jews. Aden Poly­doros, on the oth­er hand, has writ­ten a book in which we save our­selves — and even fight back, to the death. No mat­ter how hard we try, we can’t change a damn thing, because there’s a

mil­lion of them, and they’ve got our backs against the wall,” Vera says. And all we can do — the only thing left to do — is to try and take as many of them down with us.” This mat­ters. It espe­cial­ly mat­ters now, in the cur­rent social and polit­i­cal cli­mate, with anti­semitism ris­ing. Yet Jews have always fought for sur­vival, even in the face of death.

Wrath Became Her is a nov­el that is sit­u­at­ed square­ly in the Jew­ish gaze, for Jew­ish read­ers. That’s not to say that non-Jew­ish read­ers won’t enjoy it; they will. But it is unapolo­get­i­cal­ly Jew­ish. Poly­doros has cap­tured not only the anguish of Jew­ish his­to­ry, but also our deep-root­ed dri­ve for sur­vival and our com­mit­ment to hope.

Jaime Hern­don is a med­ical writer who also writes about par­ent­ing and pop cul­ture in her spare time. Her writ­ing can be seen on Kveller, Undark, Book Riot, and more. When she’s not work­ing or home­school­ing, she’s at work on an essay collection.

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