Thursday, October 08, 2009

Holocaust Stories: Reading, Watching, Writing

There is something so compelling to me about stories from the Holocaust. It was an event that affected millions of lives, and yet every story is different. Some are stories of survival, many are stories of loss, others tell stories of hope and an unexpected spark of kindness encountered during that dark moment in history. I think what draws me most is the intrinsic humanity of these stories. Love is universal. We have mothers, fathers, family, friends. We live in communities that are tenuously bound together by an adherence to certain commonalities, certain common rights; these stories look at what happens when those ties are severed, when rights are revoked, when humanity is lost.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Not only am I writing a Holocaust story, but during the past three years I have constantly immersed myself in them in order to research my novel and create a tapestry of life during that period. I go through waves of reading only WWII-era books and watching WWII-era movies. I take a break from time to time since the stories are fraught with emotion, but I still find myself drawn to them. (A good thing since I've invested so much time in this novel!)

Last weekend I finished reading Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key, which is a beautiful exploration of the importance of remembrance. The novel uses a dual narrative to follow modern day Julia as she uncovers secrets from the past, as well as following young Sarah through her tragic experience of the Holocaust. The aftermath is far-reaching and affects the families of both women. Julia's story could have been a mere sideshow, but she is a fully fleshed character and deals with her own modern issues--a husband gone astray, a pregnancy late in life, and the choices she must make along the way to move forward. I highly recommend it.

And a few weeks ago, we watched Defiance, which is a fascinating look at one small part of Holocaust history. It tells the story of a small partisan group in Poland, which survived the war in hiding, but which also fought back against the Nazis. It is an inspiring story, but I also think it's important to remember that it's one small part of the history. Many people couldn't fight back--children, the elderly--and so many others hoped that it would end soon. They couldn't begin to guess the scale of the Nazi plan or their brutality. However, I definitely recommend the movie.

Next up in the DVD queue: The Reader. I just started reading Sala's Gift, a daughter's true story of the discovery of her mother's Holocaust history. I'm particularly excited about this book because my novel is a mother-daughter story and deals with the daughter's excavation of her mother's hidden past.

To the other writers out there: what stories compel you, and are they the same stories you explore in your own writing?


Molly said...

I have treated many Holocaust survivors over the years and their stories always fascinate me. Sometimes "survivor" means they got shipped out early, as babies, to relatives far away - sometimes portions of childhood spent in camps. One that sticks with me was a German citizen, she was not brave, or particularly political (like so many people in our modern world) she was just a young German girl living her life. She said the whole things was entirely insidious. By the time they started moving people to camps, they were terrified of the Jews, of the horrible torture that the Jews were preparing for them as they took over the world. The Jews she knew were not like that, but they had to be the exception, Most of them were cruel and dirty people. She told me that until she moved to the states, she had no idea what was happening, and, like the rest of the world the magnitude of the situation unfolded for many years.

I knew this women just before Bush's 2nd term, she told me that every thing she heard about the Muslims in America sounded like all the news and scare tactics she heard in Nazi Germany. That she felt it was propaganda, but she could feel the old fears. She was terrified that Bush was the new Hitler, and it was starting over. She voted for him anyway, because it was war time, and you don't dispose a leader during a crisis. Sad, but poignant.

Chad Sayban said...

I just watch Definance a couple of weeks ago and it really was well done.

Rebecca said...

your book sounds totally intriguing Angie. Can't wait to see it on the shelves!

I'm inspired by lots of different things, I guess, but mainly the fraught nature of certain kinds of relationships, I think.

Angie said...

Sorry for the late reply, all. I just got my computer back. Long story...

Molly, the stories are fascinating. It's so interesting how people react, like the woman you talk about. I've always wondered what I would've done in that time, but it's hard to ever know unless you've lived it.
(p.s. Thanks for visiting.)

Chad, I thought so too.

Rebecca, thank you! (I'm excited to read yours as well. :)
I agree, relationships are endlessly inspiring...whether of the romantic variety, between siblings, parents and children. It's a veritable gold mine.