- The Darkest Side:Writing for Children about the Holocaust: An Interview with Aranka Siegal
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 76]
Aranka Siegal, one of seven children, was raised in the town of Beregszasz, Hungary, in the 1930s. During World War II she was moved with her family into a ghetto and then deported to Auschwitz before her fourteenth birthday. She and one of her sisters were rescued by the British First Army in 1945 and sent to Sweden, where they lived for three and a half years before emigrating to the United States in 1948.
Once in the United States, Ms. Siegal had to learn yet another way of life and master a sixth language. She married, had two children, and, when her son went off to college, pursued her own higher education on a formal level. She received her B.A. in social anthropology in 1977, and for a year hosted a radio show on which she recounted her experiences in Hungary and other countries.
Her first book, Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1981), was a 1982 Newbery Honor Book and the recipient of the 1982 Janusz Korczak Literary Award and the 1982 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Non-fiction. Her second book, Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation 1945-1948 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1985), continues the story of her experiences in the first years after liberation.
Currently Ms. Siegal is working on her third book. She also spends much time speaking at schools, colleges, churches, and organizations, and is a member of The Authors' Guild.
RN: I'd like to begin by asking about your choice to write for children.
AS: Well, I was a child myself when all this happened to me. While I was writing I realized that what I was writing was a scapegoat story, about children who are always the scapegoats of war. The title of the book comes from that. I wondered where the word "scapegoat" came from. The Oxford Dictionary said go to the Old Testament, Leviticus, chapter 16, and sure enough, there it was, the story of Aaron losing his two sons. When Aaron had lost both his sons he went to Moses and said, "I want you to speak to God." And when Moses returned from God he said, "You should take a goat and put all of the sins of the Israelites upon the head of the goat and send it with an appointed man into the wilderness, so he should carry off the sins of the Israelites, the children of Israel." And I thought, this would make such a nice title, Upon the Head of the Goat. My publisher wasn't in favor of it at first because they [End Page 77] wanted the title to suggest something about the book, like "1939-1944, The Life of a Jewish Girl in Hungary." I said, "It is not strictly a Jewish story, because what people seem to forget about the Holocaust is that although the Jews mainly speak about it, it is not just a Jewish tragedy. Although six million Jews died in the Holocaust, a lot of Christians did too. It upsets me when people minimize the Holocaust by saying, there were always ghettos, there are ghettos here too, because people are still free; they come and go as they please. It is not pleasant to live in a slum area which is usually a ghetto, but at least you are free. However, I don't believe it is strictly a Jewish thing."
When the director of the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam, who is a good friend of ours, was here for a fund-raising, my husband said, "I will speak to some of the wealthy Jews that I know and see what I can do." He said, "We are not here just to approach Jews; this is not just a Jewish problem. Actually the Dutch people are just coming to terms with the fact that the Jews who were taken away were Dutchmen, who happened to be Jewish." As a matter of fact...