So today is pretty historic for Britain. Today we will decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union.
I’m worried. I hope common sense will win through, but hey, nothing motivates like xenophobia, right? I genuinely believe if we leave the EU, the next step will be to put a system in place to ‘send all the foreigners back’ and then we’ll be well on our way to the dawning of a new Holocaust.
I sound like a drama queen, I know. But if you went back in time to warn people about the Holocaust, do you really think they’d believe you?
I’m not going to get into all the different issues surrounding the referendum, because this isn’t a political blog. But I thought I’d mention a few books with a really strong message about the Holocaust. I think it’s so important to read up on and learn from all areas of history, and I don’t really think it’s possible to read these books and not come out with a deep hatred for racism and intolerance.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve still only read about two-thirds of this, but what I have read was deeply affecting.
Sometimes, I forgot I was reading fact: the Holocaust was so downright stupid that I couldn’t comprehend people actually having to live through it.
How can someone be filled with so much hate that they would murder masses of innocent people? How can they put on such a convincing act that people actually thought they were talking sense? Anne was just a regular teen, and she suffered in ways that the basest of animals should never have to suffer.
Maus by Art Spiegelman.
Maus is a graphic novel narrated by the artist’s father, who describes his memories of life during the Holocaust. Spiegelman depicts the Jewish population as mice and the Nazi party as cats (in a very overt metaphor).
Ever since reading this at uni, I’ve thought it should be mandatory reading in schools. It’s such a dynamic way to explore the subject. When I was at school, I became desensitized to the horrors of World War II because I’d been made to read so many dreary texts. Maus is so much more readable, while not shying away from the dreadful reality.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Even if you haven’t read it, someone will have recommended to you this story of Liesel, a 10-year-old living in Germany during WWII. I thought it was somewhat overhyped, but there’s no denying it deals with the subject matter well.
The part that really struck a chord with me was when Liesel’s foster family took in and hid a Jewish man, because the level of danger just rocketed. It’s easy to see you’re in for a tragic read.
Although The Book Thief didn’t resonate with me as much as some of the other books on this list, I still think it’s a very important one to pick up.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.
If you’ve read even a couple of my posts before today, you probably saw this one coming.
Bruno is 9, German and a bit of a brat. His father works closely with Hitler (whom Bruno mistakenly – and tellingly – refers to as ‘the Fury’ rather than ‘the Fuhrer’) and moves the family to a new house with a concentration camp nearby. While exploring, Bruno finds the fence surrounding the camp and on the other side sits Schmuel, a Jewish boy of Bruno’s age, and they become friends.
The story is made all the more heart-wrenching by Bruno’s innocence: he thinks the camp is a farm; he thinks Schmuel has it easy, playing all day and not having to do schoolwork; he wants to go and play in the farm himself.
In researching this post, I was surprised to find that the book has been called ‘inaccurate’, and subsequently horrified when I discovered the reason:
‘There were no 9-year-old boys in Auschwitz – the Nazis immediately gassed those not old enough to work.’
– Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Normally, I would say that since this is a novel and not a history book, some creativity could be forgiven – but if I read a novel about the Tudors and someone was using a mobile phone, I’d stop reading.
I still think this is a wonderful book, but it’s historical fiction and therefore should be as accurate as possible, with embellishment rather than changing history to suit the author’s needs. Schmuel could have been aged up – it’s not implausible that an older boy would befriend Bruno in this situation – or Boyne should have mentioned in a foreword that some artistic licence had been taken. (Bruno needs to stay the same age because the innocent viewpoint drives the story so much.)
Comparing leaving the EU to the start of a second Holocaust might sound a bit silly, but in my eyes it’s an all-too real possibility. Hitler didn’t take Germany by force: he was voted in, because he was charismatic and he appealed to people’s intolerance. If Britain says ‘no’ to Europe, we will be saying ‘yes’ to xenophobia. Having a national identity is not as important as being peaceful and tolerant. Yes, something needs to change, but racist fear-mongering is not the way forward.
Don’t ignore history: learn from it.
‘And that’s the end of the story about Bruno and his family. Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again.
Not in this day and age.’
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne