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  • My Mother's Voice: Children, Literature, and the Holocaust
  • Michael J. Martin (bio)
My Mother's Voice: Children, Literature, and the Holocaust. By Adrienne Kertzer. Canada: Broadview, 2002

The central question of Gudrun Pausewang's The Final Journey is this: What, if anything, does one tell a child about the Holocaust? Only during her journey to a Nazi death camp does Alice, the protagonist, come to know the Holocaust. As readers discover in the text, Alice's grandparents have consistently misinformed her about the events transpiring throughout Europe, and it is only during this journey that Alice comes to hear the [End Page 171] truth. When she confronts her grandfather with what she has learned, her grandfather's response speaks volumes: "'You could not possibly have understood the truth,' said Grandfather almost inaudibly. 'We scarcely understand it'" (72). As this concern for a child's understanding of the Holocaust serves as a central, textual question, it also remains a central question to those who study and teach children's literature and, in particular, children's Holocaust literature. In My Mother's Voice: Children, Literature, and the Holocaust, Adrienne Kertzer reexamines just this sort of question through a series of essays that explore the authorial construction of children's Holocaust literature and the understanding that a child reader gains about the Holocaust through such texts.

Divided into four sections, the most telling chapters of the work are found in section two, where Kertzer turns her discussion to an exploration of the cultural construction of the child's voice in Holocaust literature. While chapter four focuses on an interrogation of the cultural manipulation of Anne Frank and how her diary has been disseminated and received by young readers, the fifth chapter offers a much stronger discussion of the large and unseen impact that culture has on Holocaust literature. In this chapter, Kertzer provides readers with a detailed description of the full production of Daniel's Story, a fictional novel by Carol Matas that was written to accompany the opening of an exhibition entitled "Remember the Children" at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Interestingly, upon agreeing to write the accompanying novel, Matas also had to agree that before the work was published, it would have to be approved by a USHMM committee. As Kertzer writes, "when a book like Daniel's Story is 'produced,' it must also accommodate the conflicting demands produced by the authority of established scholars, the standing for the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the expectations of its visitors" (147). Aware of this period of negotiation, Kertzer provides a strong and well-documented discussion that follows the project from start to finish and highlights the differing concerns that numerous individuals brought to the project.

I call attention to this discussion because, to a certain degree, it serves as a central chapter to this complete work. This essay raises such questions as: How do authors of Holocaust literature navigate the fine line between fact and fiction? Why do Holocaust texts written for children traditionally strive to teach a lesson and/or provide positive narratives? What impact do such positive texts have on a child's understanding of the Holocaust? Overall, Kertzer retraces these same questions through independent discussions of such authors as Isabella Leitner and her adult and children's texts, Anita Lobel's work, and Roberto Benigni's film Life is Beautiful. I believe it is important to call attention to the work that Kertzer provides concerning the use of the fable (Life is Beautiful) and the picture book (the work of Anita Lobel and others), for too often the growing use of imagery in children's Holocaust literature remains a neglected area of study. This text works to end such silence through stimulating discussion.

Yet the greatest concerns that I have with this work deal with Kertzer's own argument concerning the "happy" or positive endings found in much of children's Holocaust literature and her discussion of the young adult and Holocaust study. First, a central issue that can be traced throughout many of the different discussions found in this text remains a questioning of the need for happy endings. At one point in...


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pp. 171-173
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