- Sparing the Child: Grief and the Unspeakable in Youth Literature about Nazism and the Holocaust
This book on Holocaust literature is the latest volume in the series entitled "Children's Literature and Culture." Jack Zipes, the series editor, states, "This series is particularly concerned with transformations in children's culture and how they have affected the representation and socialization of children" (ix). Hamida Bosmajian, Professor of English at Seattle University, handles this daunting task well in nine chapters on Holocaust literature for youth.
Some chapters, such as the first one titled "Official Histories and Counter-Texts: Literature for Youth about Nazism," are surveys on the subject. These chapters discuss a number of titles and provide an excellent overview of Holocaust literature. Others, such as the chapters on Doris Orgel 's The Devil in Vienna or Ruth Minsky Sender's The Holocaust Lady, are detailed and thoughtful critiques of individual books.
In the first chapter, Bosmajian analyzes the unsettling rise of the Hitler Youth and shows how National [End Page 178] Socialism "constructed its young readers and their literature in terms of the heroic gesture and image," while at the same time controlled or repressed the hate propaganda and anti-Semitism that the party actualized in their daily life (6). Bosmajian includes a chilling "ten-best list" compiled by the National Socialist Teachers Federation in 1935 that included Mein Kampf, Little Racial Primer, and Der Hitlerjunge Quex (the influential 1933 novel about which she devotes an entire chapter), along with Grimm's Children's and Household Tales. Bosmajian tells us that, surprisingly, portrayals of anti-Semitic stereotypes were relatively rare in Nazi youth literature, although these stereotypes surrounded children within the widespread general propaganda. "Officially, Nazi education and youth literature highlighted the production of the mythos of the Germanic hero and the cult of the Aryan family," she writes (19). She explains that after 1945, "German literature de-realized the past by focusing on Germans suffering through bombing raids or fleeing the advance of the Soviet army. Not until the 1960s were National Socialist Germany and the Holocaust subjects in young reader's literature" (7).
After this fine introductory first chapter, Bosmajian delves into some chapter-length analyses of individual novels or authors. Three German authors with chapters of their own include Hans Richter, Barbara Gehrts, and Horst Burger. Richter was the first to address the subject of the persecution of the Jews in German youth literature. Bosmajian provides an excellent critique of his three autobiographical/fictional accounts of growing up in the Third Reich in a chapter entitled "Melancholy Detachment." The last of his trilogy is titled The Time of the Young Soldiers, published in 1983, but the first two may be more well known to American readers: Freidrich (1961) and I Was There (1962/64). In a revealing anecdote, Bosmajian relates that Richter listened to National Socialist oratory as well as the Hitler Youth Anthem for inspiration while writing Freidrich, all the while anxious lest his own young children pick up the tunes and sing the "forbidden songs." In the epigraph to I Was There, Richter states, "I am reporting how I experienced and perceived at that time—nothing more. I was there. I was not only an eyewitness: I believed—and I will never believe again" (53). Bosmajian faults the author for this statement when she writes, "by insisting that he was once a believer, he implies that he did not evaluate or interpret" but projects his narrator as a victim who suffered at the hands of fascism (53).
Bosmajian next devotes a chapter to two more German writers: Horst Burger (Why Were You in the Hitler Youth? Four Questions to My Father, 1978), and Barbara Gehrts (Don't Say a Word, 1975). She marks the distinction between the narrators in these novels with the "affectless and passive-aggressive attitudes" of the narrator in Richter 's three autobiographical fictions from the previous chapter (77). She entitles this next chapter "Hitler Youths with Private Values" and states that the narrators of these...