Three Jewish Tales of Terror

Almost everyone knows about the Holocausts, about how Adolf Hitler had thousands of Jews murdered for his own political ends. The debate as to why Hitler did so continues; some say it was because of Hitler’s own religious beliefs or maybe his views on society and economics. Regardless of why the German dictator did what he did, most will agree that it was one of history’s darkest periods. In my advanced world literature class and my sixth grade class, I came across some books detailing events that occurred concerning the Jews and the Germans in the 1940’s. The first two are 2/5, for I don’t think either were challenging reads. But the last was a level 3 book, for not only was it more detailed and dedicated to facts but also captured the tragic tone of what it was like to be a Jew at the hands of Hitler.

The sixth grade read was Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. It tells of a girl named Annemarie who lives with her family in mid 1940’s Denmark, where German soldiers are gathering up Jews to take to the concentration camps. She gets into a situation where she must hide her friend Ellen, who is a Jew, from the prying fingers of the soldiers. The novel grows in suspense, as the two girls desperately try to hide from the Germans, leaving house to house.

The second read (in my advanced world literature class) was Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic. It tells of a girl named Hannah Stern who attends a Passover meal with her Jewish family in New York. One night over at her family’s house , she wakes to find herself transported back in time to when Jews were brought into the German concentration camps. Hannah assumes another identity, and learns first hand what life was like for Jewish women in the camps. What worries her is not only the brutal German administration, but whether or not she will return to her own time.

For me though, the third read, Elie Wiesel’s Night, is the most well written account of the camps. Wiesel and the story’s main character, Eliezar, share many things in common, for Wiesel based this story on his own horrific experiences. Eliezar lives in Hungary with his father, mother and sisters. He’s studying the Torah, the religious text of Judaism. Rumors have been floating around that the Germans are shipping Jews away, and it is not long before Eliezar and his family are first hand recipients of this care. They are sent to Auschwitz, the most notorious of all the concentration camps.

When he arrives at Auschwitz, Eliezar is separated from his mother and sisters and is left with his father. They are treated cruelly by the Germans, and the pain becomes so demoralizing that Eliezar abandons his faith in God. His father is the only one who gives him hope in the dire circumstances. When the Germans receive word that the Russians are coming to take over the camp, the Germans force the remaining Jews to leave. And so a desperate rush impels Eliezar and his sick father to run through deep snow for their lives.

These stories do well to present historical events, like Musketeers and Hunchback. Yet I must confess, the Holocaust, though it should be taught and reflected upon, is taught too often in the public education system; every public school grade seems to emphasize this tragic history over and over. That’s a serious educational problem to me, for it doesn’t give equal time to other events in history that are just as important, such as Stalin’s control over Soviet Russia. It seems like there are certain facets of history that the educational system wants to focus on, but that is a serious issue, because it doesn’t give students a broad education. It’s narrow, because you’ve only been exposed to certain events over and over. Such thoughts may be condemned as anti-Semitic, but I think they are based more on reason and logic. We do the victims of the Holocaust an equal disservice when we fail to look for injustice everywhere instead of in just one group of people and their history. If the holocausts teaches us anything, it is that injustice should be fought against, lest something more terrible than the Jewish massacres happen. God forbid. Yet there are acts of violence everyday that, though they may be less in scope, are equally as detrimental to society.  If your interested in learning about the Holocausts, pick up Elie Wiesel’s Night; it, in my opinion, does a better job than Stars or Arithmetic in bringing the realism of the time period to the reader.


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