I first read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank in third grade. I distinctly remember thinking it was a FAT book. Child view of the world right there. Imagine if I’d seen a copy of Moby Dick! I don’t know how I got my hands on that book — my teacher? a sibling? — but I’m certain I read it solely for the accomplishment, because my seven-year-old mind didn’t really grasp the moral weight of it.
Yes, I got that the Frank family were hiding from persecution. But the scale of the Holocaust and the testament to the human spirit that Anne’s voice became?
I was a little too busy pretending I was an alien from a planet called Orton for that. (True story.)
Three years later, however, several classmates and I plowed through stacks of books set during the Holocaust. Some of the stories were true, like The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender. Many were fictionalized based on real events. I’ve forgotten most of the titles, but I remember snippets of other details. Like kids hiding at a school when Nazis came (a Google search says that’s from a book called Twenty and Ten), or a litle girl peering through a a hole in a suffocating cattle car on the way to a concentration camp.
We may have talked about the Holocaust in class, but I honestly don’t remember that. Memoirs and fiction were the primary way I learned about concentration camps and Jewish ghettos and genocide.
Now that I’m older, though, I also know about mass atrocities in other places throughout the world and modern times. And I wonder why I didn’t read books told from the perspective of kids living through, say, the Trail of Tears, or Argentina’s Dirty War?