This week’s Tablet column: The Holocaust books that thrilled and terrified us as children. And tweens and teens.
It definitely tripped me out, seeing all those covers again. (We didn’t even mention Alan & Naomi, a Holocaust book I adored/was distressed by as a tween, or Anne Frank, which seemed too obvious.) I loved this quote from Professor Kalmanofsky that got cut for space: “The Holocaust was recent enough that we could still hear first-hand experiences of it, but it wasn’t the entirety of our mall-going, Carol-Burnett-watching existence.” Right? GenX was the sweet spot, literary-terrorizingishly-speaking: Children of the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s didn’t have enough distance to get delicious chills from Holocaust lit – that would be sacrilege — and kids today are a further generation removed, less likely to have Holocaust survivors speaking at their school and less likely to experience Jewishness as a source of anxiety as much as pride. (Which isn’t to say that some kids don’t still love scary Holocaust lit. My own daughter devoured Number the Stars, The Night Crossing and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit … which, incidentally, has a much more creepily sophisticated cover than it did in my day. But Josie also keeps calling the villains “Nah-ZEES,” despite my correcting her. I think that’s an indication of how alien the villains seem to her, as foreign as something out of Avatar.) I suspect that among kids in general, there are fewer passed-around, must-read Holocaust books these days. Is this a fact to be mourned, or celebrated?