By Gene Printz-Kopelson, September 2014
How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust
By Dan McMillan
(New York: Basic Books, 2014)
Adolph Hitler had thousands of willing accomplices in his plan to exterminate European Jewry. Dan McMillan reviews how Hitler easily found men to do the job. In all the postwar trials, there was not one example of punishment for failure to follow orders to kill Jews.
Unlike the typical fanatical SS units, he cites Reserve Police Battalion 101: a group of 500 uniformed Germans who shot 38,000 Polish Jews and who rounded up another 45,000 and forced them into cattle cars headed to the gas chambers of Treblinka. The police were ordinary Germans, not Nazi fanatics, who had been drafted into the army. Many had voted against the Nazi Party in 1933.
When first told of their orders, their commander offered that they could be assigned other duties; only ten of the 500 did. The remainder began their first massacre of unarmed Jews. Offers to opt out of the killings continued with few takers.
The author delves into three factors explaining their willingness to kill the innocent: obedience to authority, the need to conform to group behavior, and the tendency for a person to adapt to any role they must fulfill and adjust their notion of morality.
This book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the true roots of how the holocaust happened.
The Whispering Town
By Jennifer Elvgren
(Minneapolis: Kar-Ben, 2014)
Little Anett lives in a small Danish town during the Nazi occupation. One day her parents tell her they have new friends living in the basement. Each day Anett goes to town to buy extra supplies and brings food and books to her new friends. The Nazis are searching for hidden Jews and Anett stands up to them. She and her father arrange that the townspeople whisper directions to the escaping Jews to guide them at night safely to the harbor to board rescue boats to Sweden.
This is a heart-warming illustrated children’s book explaining the true story of one town’s joint rescue of Danish Jewry during the High Holydays of 1943. Young readers will find this a good introduction to the holocaust.
Gifts from the Enemy
By Trudy Ludwig
(Ashland: White Cloud Press, 2014)
Jewish teenager Alter is taken from his loving family by Nazis and sent to a forced labor camp. At the point when he almost gives up, a kindly German woman factory worker secretly leaves him food every day for a month. He is stronger, physically and emotionally, from this kindly act and survives the holocaust. He realizes that there are good and bad people in every group.
This illustrated holocaust children’s book is made not too frightening for young readers and its optimistic theme is another good introductory book about the holocaust.
Hope is the Last to Die
By Halina Birenbaum
(Oswiecim: Publishing House of the State Museum, 2012)
Ten year old Halina witnesses the outbreak of World War II when her native Poland is defeated by the Nazis. She experiences the horrors of the holocaust first hand living underneath the city streets during the 1943 Warsaw Jewish Rebellion. Witnessing SS cruelty and murders, she is sent to Majdanek concentration camp where the horrors worsen. Forced labor, starvation, diarrhea were only part of the sufferings she endured. Miraculously, one German crosses her name off the list of those selected to die. She watches her sister-in-law slowly die. She is sent from one labor camp to the next until finally in Auschwitz is freed by Russian soldiers. Miraculously after the war she finds one of her two brothers alive in Warsaw.
This autobiography is one of hundreds to document Nazi atrocities that also sends a message of hope because the victim survived. It documents in detail life in the Warsaw ghetto and in several concentration camps including Majdanek and Auschwitz.
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