In high school I became obsessed with the Jewish experience. I’m not quite certain what kicked it off. Maybe it was the shoes in the National Holocaust Museum that I encountered in 9th grade. Or maybe it was seeing Schindler’s Listwith my high school boyfriend. In fact, this scene from Schindler’s List and the accompanying soundtrack still tugs at my heart after all these years.
Whatever it was something about the Jewish experience spoke to me, but I went on to write an extensive paper in my college credit English Composition class chronicling the exile and persecution of the Jews through the ages. My high school went on to produce I Never Saw Another Butterfly and I nearly went to state speech using sections of the play in the Dynamic Duo category.
I participated in the events sponsored by my college surrounding Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) in April and May. Over the course of four years, I had the opportunity to listen to and meet so many wonderful people who were willing to share their stories of survival during this brutal time. I have been touched by each every story and have carried pieces of those stories with me.
Over the years, I’ve been especially drawn to books set in and around World War II especially after being so strongly connected to I Never Saw Another Butterfly. I Never Saw Another Butterfly is a collection of pictures and poems from the children living in the Terezin ghetto. Even during one of the darkest times in human history, art, music and literature brought bring people together. Even in death, these pieces allow the children and their hopes and dreams to live on.
In honor of The Days of Remembrance, I wanted to share a few books you might consider reading. I hope you’ll share a few of your favorites as well.
- Zlata’s Diary. Considered a modern day Anne Frank, Zlata shares her story of growing up in Sarajevo during the war. I borrowed this from my sister (it was required reading for her in college). Definitely consider reading this for a glimpse of life growing up during a modern day war.
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I have read this book and listened to it. A fictional moving tale of the French Resistance. The war was about more than killing those the Nazis felt were inferior; whole countries were devastated by the Nazi Occupation and found a way to fight back. Bring the tissues! [Read my review. And I re-read it again recently! Read that review.]
- Night. This short, but powerful account of how a father and son’s relationship is changed by the horrors of war.
- Code Name Verity. Women pilots and women spies show their strength through the war. Probably one of the best audiobooks I have listened to so far. [Read my review]
- Twilight of Courage. If epic historical fiction novels with multiple story lines is more your speed definitely check this one out. Just be warned it does fall in the Christian fiction category and can be a bit preachy. However, it covers the war from multiple countries and nationalities. It is also one of the first WWII historical fiction novels I recall reading.
- The Book Thief. A unique perspective on the war and one girl’s journey to learn and stay alive. After reading this book twice now, I cherish novels set during this part of history that take into a account how other populations (outside those rounded up and send to camps) survived. [Read my review]
- The Zookeeper’s Wife. A non-fiction account of how the Warsaw Zoo played an important part in the saving refugees during the war.
- Rose Under Fire. While not a strong as Code Name Verity, Rose examines life as a political prisoner in the camps and what happens when one survives such unbearable unthinkable conditions. [Read my review]
From I Never Saw Another Butterfly
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.
Pavel Friedmann 4.6.1942
What novels or movies about war (real or imagined) have you read or watched? Have they stuck with you? Why do they strike a chord with you?