Anne Frank

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Anne Frank by Josephine Poole

2005

Illustrated by Angela Barrett

When the conceptual artists, Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, created their Holocaust memorial in Berlin, they hung eighty signs on lampposts in a neighborhood that had once been home to a significant population of prosperous assimilated Jews. Each sign had a simple image (an empty bird cage, a loaf of bread) on one side, of the kind one might find on an alphabet chart. The other side was printed with one of the many anti-Semitic proclamations issued between 1933 and 1945 that effected a gradual and relentless marginalization of the Jewish community. There were the substantive bans – those that prohibited employment, school attendance, emigration. More shocking, perhaps, were the more trivial and spiteful bans, devised simply to humiliate, posted after deportation of Berlin Jews was well underway. “In bakeries and cafes, signs must be posted stating that Jews and Poles may not purchase cakes. February 14, 1942” or “Jews are no longer allowed to have household pets. February 15, 1942.”

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There is much about the Holocaust that is unfathomable, especially to children, but the sundering of a child from a pet is a detail to which anyone who has loved a dog or a cat or a canary can relate. In Amsterdam, when the Frank family went into hiding in the secret annex, Anne had to take leave of Moortje, her kitty. Josephine Poole’s picture book biography recounts this tearful farewell. Anne was an exceptional child, with her fiery spirit and eloquent voice, but she was also an ordinary girl who led a life that would have been quite ordinary had it not intersected Hitler’s rise. She had an entertaining father and friends with whom she liked to see movies and a comfortable apartment and an affectionate cat – a life, in other words, that was similar to that of many children reading her story.

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Josephine Poole’s book is a good introduction to Anne Frank, and it is particularly valuable for providing historical context. What sets it apart are the evocative illustrations by the talented Angela Barrett. She is drawn to historical tales, which she illustrates with eloquence and an air of melancholy (see her Snow White, Joan of Arc, or The Hidden House), and her rich and somber watercolors convey the arc of Anne’s short life with a quiet intensity.

Aside: “’We had a canary. When we received the notice that Jews are forbidden from keeping pets, my husband found it impossible to part from the animal. Every sunny day, he put the bird-cage out on the window sill. Perhaps someone reported him, because one day he was summoned to the Gestapo.… After living in fear for many weeks, the police sent a postcard stating that I must pay a fee of 3 Reichs-marks to pick up my husband’s ashes.’ Rupert, 1943.” Places of Remembrance.

 

 

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The Cats in Krasinski Square

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The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse

2004

 Illustrated by Wendy Watson

 How to present the Holocaust to children? For those who are too young for Anne Frank or Primo Levi, a gentle approach is provided by The Cats in Krasinski Square, a book that sets just the right tone. It tells of one small moment of successful defiance and quietly heralds the human courage, friendship, and dignity that survived in the face of unfathomable brutality.

 The book was inspired by I Remember Nothing More, a remarkable memoir by Adina Blady Szwajger. A medical student at the time of the walling off of the Warsaw Ghetto, she devoted herself to her young charges in the Warsaw Children’s Hospital until 1943 when the final deportations of Jews to the concentration camps were nearing completion. She escaped the Ghetto and began working as a courier for the Jewish Resistance. She was one of the fortunate few to survive the war.

 The Cats in Krasinski Square features a young girl who has escaped the Ghetto and is able to pass as an Aryan outside the Wall. She lives with her older sister, a member of the Resistance, and she befriends the cats who have been rendered homeless by the war. When she learns that a plan to smuggle food into the Ghetto is threatened by the Gestapo, she gathers up the stray cats into wicker baskets. As the train carrying the food couriers pulls into the station and the German soldiers let loose their snarling dogs, the cats are released and pandemonium ensues. That night the food makes its way into the Ghetto and the girl passes a loaf of bread through a hole in the Wall into the grateful arms of her friend Michal. Meanwhile, in Krasinski Square, a carousel swirls to gay music and children laugh with delight. Szwajger described watching the carousel as the fighting of the Ghetto Uprising raged and the houses (her own, among them) went up in flames on the other side of the Wall. The merry riders were seemingly insensible to the human tragedy playing out nearby.DSC03536

 Karen Hesse is a sensitive writer who has garnered both a Newberry Medal and a MacArthur Award for her books for children. With an economy of words and a poetic prose style, she has taken on complex moments in history and given them a human face. Her subjects have included the grinding poverty of the Dust Bowl, the forced relocation of the Aleuts after the Japanese invasion, and the Ku Klux Klan in New England. Never sentimental or sensationalistic, she creates a strong sense of historical place and the response of individuals to burdens imposed by the vagaries of historical circumstance.

 In The Cats in Krasinski Square she is aided by Wendy Watson, a visual artist of comparable sensitivity. With softly blurred illustrations in muted yet luminous golden and ruddy tones, she portrays essence of cat along with essence of war-torn Warsaw. In the climactic train station scene, she provides just enough comic relief to allow the reader to feel triumphant exhilaration as a clever young girl with ingenuity outfoxes the Nazi soldiers.DSC03535