by Michal Hoschan­der Malen

Doreen Rap­pa­port, author of numer­ous high­ly acclaimed books for chil­dren and young adults, spoke on Holo­caust Remem­brance Day at the Great Neck Library, a pub­lic library in sub­ur­ban New York. Her most recent book Beyond Courage: The Untold Sto­ry of Jew­ish Resis­tance Dur­ing the Holo­caust is a com­pre­hen­sive­ly com­piled and beau­ti­ful­ly told recount­ing of numer­ous instances of Jew­ish resis­tance, of fight­ing back in ways large and small, of unbow­ing strength in the face of the Nazi onslaught, some­thing so many are sad­ly unaware is also an impor­tant part of the Holo­caust sto­ry. Of course, the huge, sense­less, incal­cu­la­ble tragedy can nev­er be denied and should nev­er be for­got­ten. We have, for­tu­nate­ly, an ever-grow­ing body of lit­er­a­ture, reflect­ed in the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s reviews, tes­ti­fy­ing and bear­ing wit­ness to cru­el­ty and slaugh­ter and the mar­tyr­dom which ensued. But Rap­pa­port reminds adults, and more impor­tant­ly their chil­dren, that there was anoth­er aspect to the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence of the time which we should remem­ber with pride and glo­ry and from which we can draw lessons impor­tant to our future sur­vival and health as a peo­ple, that of show­ing resis­tance in any way pos­si­ble and of show­ing, too, a kind of courage dif­fi­cult to imag­ine in our day. She is con­vinced that today’s chil­dren need to hear the sto­ries of push­ing back and be inspired by them. Cou­pling sur­vivor tes­ti­monies with sto­ries of courage and resis­tance is an effec­tive and telling way to teach young peo­ple about the way it was. She focus­es on sev­er­al types of resis­tance in her book and in her talk, some more dra­mat­ic than oth­ers, but all sig­nif­i­cant and vital­ly impor­tant includ­ing escapes, upris­ings (in ad­dition to the well-known one in the War­saw ghet­to), sab­o­tage, ges­tures with­in the camps such as the light­ing of Chanukah can­dles, and the sav­ing of chil­dren. This last, the sav­ing of chil­dren, was vital­ly impor­tant to old­er Jews who knew that they would prob­a­bly not sur­vive. The push to smug­gle, hide and oth­er­wise save chil­dren seemed like the only hope for any pos­si­ble future and was treat­ed with the utmost seri­ous­ness. Rap­pa­port spends much time writ­ing and talk­ing about this cru­cial and high­ly emo­tion­al topic. 

Rap­pa­port is not only a won­der­ful writer who knows how to bring his­to­ry alive for a young read­er through the writ­ten word, she is a live­ly and engag­ing speak­er, as well, with a charm­ing and wel­com­ing style. Hear­ing her describe the process of birthing this book was pos­i­tive­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. It began ten years ago, when she was in the process of writ­ing a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent book on Jew­ish-Amer­i­cans. A librar­i­an kept ply­ing her, unasked, with mate­ri­als about Jew­ish resis­tance dur­ing the Holo­caust. Her mind was focused on the top­ic at hand but some­how, the unso­licit­ed mate­r­i­al caught her inter­est and the seed for Beyond Courage was plant­ed.

Rap­pa­port described the research for the project and cit­ed help from librar­i­ans, experts at the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Muse­um, two research trips to Israel, and the ded­i­cat­ed assis­tance of many sur­vivors who were wit­ness­es to the events described in the book. She not­ed the emo­tion­al con­nec­tion she has made with some of these sur­vivors and described what it was like to help them sort out some of their mem­o­ries of that dif­fi­cult time. Many are bril­liant and resource­ful peo­ple and it is evi­dent that they drew upon those traits in their resis­tance activities. 

When the time came to write, there were many deci­sions to be made about what to put in and what to leave out. What actu­al­ly con­sti­tutes resis­tance? It isn’t always an easy con­cept to define. Does it include self-help? Secret schools? Archives left for future gen­er­a­tions? Diaries and records of dai­ly life? Even just sur­vival is resis­tance in its own way and luck plays a part in near­ly every sto­ry. The def­i­n­i­tions and deci­sions as to what to include were com­plex. Then came the fact-check­ing. Many of the events in this book are based on people’s recollec­tions and mem­o­ries of a time already long ago and in a non-fic­tion book like this one, care must be tak­en to authen­ti­cate and ver­i­fy every detail, not always an easy task. 

As the book is geared to chil­dren and young adults, sto­ries about chil­dren are fea­tured. But fram­ing these sto­ries which can be harsh and uncom­fort­able to hear into a form that chil­dren can read and respond to in a pos­i­tive way was a chal­leng­ing task requir­ing a cre­ative approach. At times, she not­ed, it helped to imag­ine scenes cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly in her mind. 

The gath­er­ing of the pho­tographs, the culling of them and the plac­ing of them with­in the text was also a chal­leng­ing task. They help bring the book to life for the read­er and are an impor­tant part of the learn­ing expe­ri­ence but incor­po­rat­ing them into the whole for max­i­mum effect was not a sim­ple process. 

The design of the book was also the sub­ject of deep thought as the sym­bol­ism of the choic­es inter­twined so thor­ough­ly with the mes­sage being con­veyed. As the Star of David is, in the minds of many, an impor­tant sym­bol, and as Rap­pa­port felt it had been de­based and dis­re­spect­ed so often dur­ing the Holo­caust years, it was impor­tant to her to redeem and res­cue” the Star in a sym­bol­ic man­ner with­in the pages of her book. She had many meet­ings with the book design­er, who is a non-Jew, and was able to con­vey the impor­tance of the con­cept. The Star is used cre­ative­ly through­out the book from the cov­er onward as a graph­ic sym­bol rep­re­sent­ing hope and heal­ing and the future of the Jew­ish peo­ple; when read­ing the book, it is worth not­ing the sub­tleties of this design fea­ture and how it qui­et­ly enhances the over­all message. 

Audi­ence response to Rappaport’s talk was warm and enthu­si­as­tic. Audi­ence mem­bers asked ques­tions and shared many of their own sto­ries about World War II. Many were sur­vivors them­selves; one was an Amer­i­can sol­dier who was involved in lib­er­at­ing the camps. There were young peo­ple in the audi­ence, as well, and this was not­ed appreciative­ly by Rap­pa­port. She also drew atten­tion to all the mate­r­i­al she was not able to include in this book and said she hopes to write more on the top­ic at a future date. She left the audi­ence with one thought: all her books (there are about 48 of them so far, and the top­ics are wide-rang­ing) share a com­mon theme, and this one is no excep­tion: her theme is empow­er­ment. Empow­er­ment is vital; empow­er­ment is all. Rap­pa­port clear­ly left her audi­ence feel­ing more empowered.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is a librar­i­an and edi­tor of ref­er­ence books. She is the children’s and young adult sec­tion edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World.

Relat­ed Content:

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.