Whispers from the Camps
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2009.
151 pp., pbk., $13.99.
Jewish children in the Holocaust-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Holocaust survivors-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)-Personal narratives-Juvenile literature.
World War, 1939-1945-Concentration camps-Juvenile literature.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 10-15.
Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.
Behind them was the open cattle car; in front of them were high-ranking German officers. There was no sun, yet the buttons and boots of the SS officers sparkled. They were dressed impeccably. Especially compared to the poor people tumbling out of the cattle car, the officers looked well fed and healthy. They strutted about as though they didn't have a care in the world.
Judy looked down at her own worn shoes. She had seen German officers before but from a distance, not like this, not up close. They were frightening, as frightening as the dogs that tugged against the leather straps.
The line moved forward. The girls were shoved ahead until Elizabeth, Judy, Eva, and Klara stood directly in front of a German SS officer. He wore clean, snow-white gloves. Judy could see his thumb gesturing to the right or the left as he looked each person up and down. What could it mean?
Whispers from the Camps presents 13 narratives from Jewish children who survived the Holocaust. Told in their own words, these narratives present a very powerful and intimate look at the events and horrors of the Holocaust.
This is the second book in the Whispers trilogy from Kathy Kacer and Sharon E. McKay. The trilogy presents stories from Holocaust survivors about the camps, the ghettos and living in hiding.
The narratives in Whispers from the Camp are small sections of the story of each person and each family. Kacer and McKay refer to them as "bits of stories that together make a bigger story." Each narrative covers a short period of time, and the 13 narratives presented are all from different times during the Holocaust, from the trains arriving to the camps being liberated.
Each narrative is presented in its own way, from prose to poetry to drama, which allows the emotions and feelings of the narrator to come through strongly. The reader can easily connect with the narrator and what s/he went through.
Each narrative has a picture of the narrator as a child or teen at the beginning of the narration. The pictures can include family and friends, and most are from before the Holocaust. The pictures and the narration styles combine to strengthen the connection between the narrator and reader and make the narratives more personal to the reader. This is reinforced by a postscript at the end of each narration which briefly tells what happened to the narrator and any of their family that survived the Holocaust.
The Holocaust is a difficult topic to present to children, especially when one is trying to convey the emotions of those who were caught in it. By using the stories of survivors who were children at the time, Whispers from the Camps is able to present the material not only in an age-appropriate fashion, but also in a way that is easily accessible to older children. This is not a book for young children as the stories do not skim over the darker and more horrific aspects of the Holocaust.
The use of a small number of personal narratives gives the reader a close view of what the Holocaust was like for these children. This is a good approach for children's materials, giving them an opportunity for greater empathy for the victims of the Holocaust, as well as making the topic more accessible and more manageable.
Whispers from the Camps is an excellent look at the events of the Holocaust for older children and teens.
Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.
For more information about Kathy Kacer, see http://www.kathykacer.com/aboutme.html
For more information about Sharon MacKay, see http://www.sharonmckay.ca/ and http://biography.jrank.org/pages/1948/McKay-Sharon-E-1954.html
© 2009 Judy Cohen, all rights reserved.