The 27th of January marks the date of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the genocide that resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews, two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.
Here are some examples of literature to help approach this difficult and important chapter in history in the classroom.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne explores loss, nationalism, anti-Semitism and the power of friendship across borders and fences. The readers follow nine-year-old Bruno, who lives with his parents and sister Gretel in Berlin in 1943. As Bruno’s father, who works as a commanding officer, gets promoted, his family moves to a new house in the middle of nowhere. His parents forbid Bruno to explore the nearby forest, but he does and discovers a fence he walks along. On the other side, he spots people in striped pyjamas and finally meets a boy, called Shmuel. Bruno struggles to understand what life is like on the other side, but the two become friends. One day, Bruno dresses up in striped pyjamas to explore Shmuel’s side of the fence and to help him search for his father, whom Shmuel has not seen for several days…
The novel The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen features a young girl who feels disconnected from her culture and family. She’s bored and frustrated by her relatives’ constant storytelling regarding the Holocaust. But when she gets transported back into the year 1942 to Poland, she realizes the horrors that are ahead.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak navigates themes such as mortality, love and the importance of language in a coming of age story. Set in Germany during World War II, this historical novel follows a young girl by the name of Liesel Meminger. Her foster parents take in a Jewish man, Hans, hiding him from the authorities. Hans teaches Liesel to read, and she goes on to not only save books from being destroyed by the Nazi Party but also writing herself. There is also a 2013 film adaptation of this award-winning novel.
If you’re looking for additional media forms to approach this subject, consider the following videos. This interview features a Holocaust survivor talking to kids and teens about his experiences and memories. For a more in-depth video on a survivor’s perspective, this interview tells Lydia’s story, who was held captive in various concentration camps for nearly three years. While the first is a good introduction to the subject for younger viewers, the second is best suited for older students.
Stay kind and safe in this time of uncertainty,