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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

international holocaust remembrance day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an international day to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. (Yom HaShoah, which takes place in the spring, is similar in purpose but specific to the Jewish community.) Books about the Holocaust were a big part of my own childhood reading — perhaps surprisingly given the cheerful bent of many of my other favorite books. Of course, one reason for this was that the Holocaust was part of the Jewish experience (and I hasten to add that it was only one aspect of many, and I read books about a lot of them). But that wasn’t the only reason I spent time with books like Touch Wood, Lisa’s War, The Upstairs Room, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and on and on. Those books were a safe way to contemplate what was scary about the world. I wasn’t a kid who would’ve wanted to read, say, battle scenes, but many Holocaust books focused on individuals and their relationships in various situations caused by the Holocaust, from those in hiding to those in ghettos and concentration camps. I read about them seeing and dismissing the signs that their peaceful lives were about to change forever. I read about how people — both victims and bystanders — helped each other, often at great risk to themselves. I felt grown-up reading these books, like the authors trusted me to be able to handle the frightening truth.

One reason I was able to handle these stories in my elementary years was that the 1930s and ’40s seemed so long ago, so removed from the world around me. But obviously, a nine-year-old’s perspective notwithstanding, it wasn’t very far in the past at all, and the world hadn’t changed that much since then. Nor has it now. The world can still be scary. Oppression that might seem minor if we don’t look too closely still has the potential to get worse and worse.

Maybe the books we read can help give us the tools to notice when things aren’t okay. Or the strength to help.

Recommended reading about the Holocaust:

For excellent books on a wide range of aspects of Jewish history and culture, see the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners. And for more books on fighting persecution and working for social justice, see our Making a Difference resource page.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

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