Never Forget

“What I’m asking is, please remember those that couldn’t make it, because they are in my heart until I die.”   Ela Stein Weissberger

She was only 11 years old in 1942, herded into the concentration camp at Terezin with her mother, sister, and grandmother.  “There were 15,000 children and only 100 survived.  It is by a miracle that I can talk about it. I was saved. I think I speak in the voices of those that couldn’t make it. All that is left behind a whole generation of children are a couple of poems and pictures.”

I heard Mrs. Weissberger speaking on public radio yesterday – she’s here in Detroit for a production of Brundibar, a children’s opera that was composed and performed in the camp.  She sang the lead role for all 55 performances at Terezin, and has been promoting productions of the work ever since. 

 “When we sang, we forgot where we were. We forgot hunger, we forgot all the troubles that we had to go through,” Mrs. Weissberger says. “When we sang Brundibar, we didn’t have to wear the Jewish star on our clothing.”

Hearing this story on the radio while reading The Book Thief was certainly appropriate.  Marcus Zusak’s amazing novel about Liesl Meminger, her love of books and words, and the way she discovers the power they have to change lives during the Nazi regime, is a touching, beautifully written story. 

But it’s also a necessary reminder of a horrible time in history.

“Soon, there will be no one left who remembers,” the 79 year old Weissberger said at the end of her interview yesterday.  “And we must remember, because there are deniers still, and their numbers are growing.”

Zusak’s book was written and marketed for young adults, but has found a huge audience among readers of all ages.  Zusak writes that he hopes the book will show “another side of Nazi Germany, a side where people did risk their lives for their Jewish friends, where there were people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous.”

Ultimately, of course, the novel is about its people.  “I just honestly hope they’ll never forget the characters,” Zusak states.

Never forget. 

That good can arise even in the midst of horror.

That music and words have great power to transform lives and sustain spirits.

Good lessons for any age.

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5 thoughts on “Never Forget

  1. Oh, The Book Thief. One of my very very most favorites. I believe he actually wrote the book for adults in Australia and was surprised (and a bit confused) when it came out in the US for YA. It’s universal. Everyone who reads should read it. I’m so glad you (one of my favorite bookies) is featuring it here.

  2. I used to teach Holocaust literature a lot – Elie Wiesel, Jorge Semprun, Robert Antelme. What always remained was both the extreme distress and the tenacious spark of human life. They were terrible books and yet always beautiful ones, too. I haven’t read The Book Thief, figuring that I’ve done my bit to always remember, but I’m glad such books exist, because you’re right that it is an ethical imperative that we never forget.

  3. Great post. Life sometimes is so easy in America (even in the midst of recession and two wars) that we forget the hardship that went into building this country — and the horrors overseas. When the World War II generation is gone a lot of valuable lessons will be lost. Luckily, they can be preserved in books.

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