Monday, September 24, 2012

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, by Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick, 2012)

Recommended for ages 12 through adult.

In a stunning work of nonfiction for young people, award-winning author Doreen Rappaport has just published an ambitious new work profiling little-known true stories of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, a book that took her six years to research and write.  Her extensive research for this project included interviews with some of the survivors whose stories are told in this volume.

This is a massive topic for a book for young people, but Rappaport manages to make it comprehensible by dividing her story into discrete sections and concentrating on a selection of individual stories.  The first section, titled Realization, deals with the years up until the beginning of the war, when Hitler came to power.  The second, Saving the Future, discusses brave Jews who smuggled Jewish children to safety in Holland, Belgium, France, and the forests of the Soviet Union.  In part three, Rappaport examines resistance stories from the ghettos, not only the famed Warsaw ghetto uprising, in which a few thousand Jewish fighters held off the might of the Nazi army for nearly a month, but organized escapes from the Vilna ghetto and secret magazines penned by children in Theresienstadt.  Other chapters discuss resistance in the concentration camps and partisan warfare conducted by Jewish resistance fighters against the Nazis.

As Rappaport notes in her introduction, few of these remarkable and heroic stories are known to the general public.  Even in Jewish families, we generally learn that Jews went to the gas chambers like "lambs to the slaughter."  In this volume, she takes pride in showing that stereotype is untrue, and that there were many Jews who defied and resisted the Nazis in a variety of ways.

These many amazing stories include that of 14-year old Idel, who escaped not once but twice from a labor camp in Belorussia, finally succeeding in tunneling out of the camp with the help of other inmates, after which he reaches the partisan Jewish group governed by the Bielskis, who were hiding out in the forest.  Rappaport even includes an incredible story of a revolt of the Sonderkommandos, the Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and the crematoriums.  Although their elaborately planned revolt ultimately failed, they did succeed in blowing up one crematorium.

Handsomely designed and abundantly illustrated with dozens of archival photographs and maps, both from the war years and after, the book is supplemented with extra material on Rappaport's website, including conversations between the author and some of the survivors she profiles and links to other resources for studying the Holocaust.

Extensive back matter includes:  a pronunciation guide for the many foreign names and words in the text; a timeline of important dates from 1933 when Hitler takes power until the end of the war in 1945; source notes; a selected bibliography of books and websites, organized both as an overview and also chapter by chapter; photography and art credits; and an index.  A study guide for Beyond Courage will soon be available on Rappaport's website.

This book is highly informative and readable for adults as well as students, and definitely belongs in all public and school libraries (at least high school and middle school). I will be incredibly surprised if we don't see this book--a model of outstanding nonfiction writing for young people--recognized during book award season.


Mia said...

I hope it wins a Newbery. It's so important to get these unknown stories out. How did she find these stories? It must have been challenging as people who lived through that time are passing away.

jan godown annino said...

My expectation is that this will win important attention & be made available in libraries, in homes & museums & on other important bookshelves, as has Hitler's Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Thank you to Fourth Musketeer for sharing this title. This should be shared widely.

And huge kudos to Doreen Rappaport for bringing a critical & under-reported topic in children's literature to readers. I am pulled to the story of Idel & want to know more of all the stories of these brave resisters.