There are many Holocaust books on the market for YA readers. And while this one takes place during WWII, it is not a typical Holocaust book. Rooted in folklore and mysticism, Wrath Becomes Her centers on Jewish fighters and insists on survival.
Chaya, a partisan fighter in Lithuania in 1943, is only sixteen when she is killed by a Nazi. After her body is brought back to her father’s farm, her father finds an outlet for his rage and grief. With the help of kishuf, a kind of profane magic, he creates a golem in her image, with the sole purpose of unleashing vengeance. Using Chaya’s teeth, eyes, nails, and hair, Vera comes to life. “The dead must be buried whole,” her father says. “But if God is here, he is not listening. There is only you now, Vera.”
Vera reunites with Akiva, her fellow partisan fighter, and together they create a plan for revenge. She explains, “Akiva had called me a memorial, but I swore to myself I would become more than that. I would be the Jew that the Nazis couldn’t kill. I would show them and their collaborators that when they slaughtered innocent girls deep in the forest, those girls sometimes came back. And if they wanted to spill blood, blood was what they’d get.”
But this is more than a revenge story: it is also about how, when communities and individuals do nothing in the face of cruelty, they eventually become complicit in terrible acts, including genocide. And they do not just enable these acts, but justify them. The novel also highlights the importance of making room for emotions other than anger, so as not to let our rage engulf us completely.
Many authors of Holocaust books for teens focus on the heroism of non-Jews. Aden Polydoros, on the other hand, has written a book in which we save ourselves — and even fight back, to the death. “No matter how hard we try, we can’t change a damn thing, because there’s a
million of them, and they’ve got our backs against the wall,” Vera says. “And all we can do — the only thing left to do — is to try and take as many of them down with us.” This matters. It especially matters now, in the current social and political climate, with antisemitism rising. Yet Jews have always fought for survival, even in the face of death.
Wrath Became Her is a novel that is situated squarely in the Jewish gaze, for Jewish readers. That’s not to say that non-Jewish readers won’t enjoy it; they will. But it is unapologetically Jewish. Polydoros has captured not only the anguish of Jewish history, but also our deep-rooted drive for survival and our commitment to hope.
Jaime Herndon is a medical writer who also writes about parenting and pop culture in her spare time. Her writing can be seen on Kveller, Undark, Book Riot, and more. When she’s not working or homeschooling, she’s at work on an essay collection.