“Words have not been invented to describe Auschwitz” (Finder 67).
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.
As a high school English teacher, Holocaust study was one of my favorite units to do with students. The content is not pleasant but it is necessary, and I found students over the years had a range of knowledge on the Holocaust from limited to zero to completely inaccurate. A few students had never heard of it at all, and some who had couldn’t tell me what it was; the murder of more than six million people under Hitler’s leadership. In this memoir by Rena Finder, she mentions that there are some things she will never share about her experience. There were things I learned that I never shared with my students. Many of the details are too horrific, too haunting, and too overwhelming to try to process as an adult, let alone as a young student. It has been great to see that reading material on the Holocaust has become more and more accessible for students. I believe students should know what the Holocaust is before they end up in a high school World Literature classroom. New texts, like this one, make this much easier and more appropriate than in previous years when more of the written accounts were adult reading. The content, in some instances, is intense as you will see from the excerpt below but this is one of the best books I have seen for younger readers. This book is noted as a sixth grade reading level and likely used for 5th-8th grades. Depending on your individual child, you may find the book appropriate for 5th grade or prefer to wait.
Finder’s words are serious and straight to the point, sharing what happened when her life took a drastic turn at only eleven years old:
“The guards beat us with whips and made us jump down onto the arrival platform. White flakes like snow were falling all around us. We were thirsty after traveling so long without water and stuck out our tongues to catch the flakes, but they didn’t taste like snow. We looked up and realized the flakes were falling from tall chimneys above the crematoria ovens. White ashes. Human ashes” (62-63).
I must confess that I tried, once, to watch the movie Schindler’s List. I couldn’t handle it. I turned it off. To this day, I have never finished it. That’s the reason I never showed it to my students, as some teachers choose to do. Finder found the movie to be an accurate portrayal of what she had experienced, although she adds, “There are things survivors won’t talk about, things you could never show on a screen” (106). Finder describes Oskar Schindler’s kindness in a moving way, as well as that of his wife which I had not learned much about previously. She also said that the movie helped many, including herself, to open up and begin talking about what had happened to them in efforts to combat those who were spreading lies that the Holocaust never happened.
This memoir is just over 100 pages and I won’t give away all the details. I hope you will read it. Finder shares moments of her childhood that make it real for readers, like trying to imagine a 5 year old hiding all day in an apartment while the adults were forced to work long hours. My youngest is 5 and I can’t imagine leaving her alone all day. Finder’s book reminds us to remember and to be thankful for our lives and all of our freedoms.
Purchase your copy here: