I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures, as might be evident by my books, Withershins and Spirit Quest. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that treasured tolerance and acceptance of others, so was free to delve into the mysteries of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or native spirituality, if that was what I wanted to do.
Growing up with a Hebrew school across the street from my elementary school, I acquired many Jewish friends. As I got older and learned about world history, I was horrified to learn about the Holocaust. I could not understand why anyone could let such an atrocious thing happen to the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of my friends.
I wept for them.
I soon realized that this sort of bigotry was not new. In school, we read Mississippi Burning, about the racism in the southern United Stated between the white and black residents, there. I could not understand why people could hate another person merely because their skin colour was a little (or a lot) darker than theirs, any more than I could understand why one culture was persecuted because they had different beliefs.
I still can’t understand it.
When I read about how the Europeans treated First Nations peoples in North America and other places, like Australia, I was appalled that my ancestors were really no better than the Klu Klux Klan. I think that’s why I am glad to see so much Young Adult fiction on bookstore shelves, today, that deals with bigotry and racism. We need to show our young people the horrors that man can inflict upon another.
With any luck, they will begin to see that we cannot perpetuate the hatred.
Even as adults, we all should just let it go and embrace our fellow man (or woman) whether he/she has red skin, black, yellow, blue or purple. We must love our neighbours, whether they are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or First Nations because, when you get right down to the roots, the basis for all religions is peace among all people. It is only the fanatics that take a small portion of their religion and distort it so that they feel the need to exterminate ‘The Unbelievers’.
For those of you who feel as I do, I want to share excerpts from a few books I have on my own bookshelves (most by Manitoba authors, I’m proud to say) that illuminate bigotry for the evil it is and how it affects our children.
Eva Wiseman’s ‘A Place Not Home‘ is about a Hungarian Jewish family who must flee their country because they are afraid they will be killed. Here is an excerpt:
“Mother warned us not to make a sound. She covered us, even our heads, with the blanket. I wished I was invisible.
Father walked to the door hesitantly. ‘Who is it?’
‘It’s Erno Gabor.’ Father let him in. I peeked out from under the blanket. Although the voice was familiar, I felt afraid even to breathe. Dr. Gabor’s face was as white as snow; sweat was pouring off his brow. He looked very different from the last time he paid a house call, when I had whooping cough.
‘My God, Erno, are you ill? Kati, get him some brandy!’
‘No, no, I’m okay. I must contact all the Jews in Veszprem. I’ve heard rumors that some of the former Nazis are making a list of all the Jews who are left. They are planning a pogrom. They want to kill us all.’
Mother muffled a cry of terror. Father was ashen.”
A Kulak was a term used by Stalin’s Communists who did not conform or ‘share’ with the community. Farmers were expected to give up everything they worked for during the growing season for the good of the country, but it was not shared equally. In ‘The Kulak’s Daughter‘, by Gabriele Goldstone, Olga’s father tries to hide grain stores but there are spies everywhere.
“One morning, when I got to school, everyone’s talking in whispers about Michael’s papa. He’s disappeared overnight.
It’s not the first time a black car we’ve nicknamed ‘The Blackbird’ swooped into a farmyard to arrest a kulak during the night. But it’s the first time it involves one of my classmates. People say Michael’s papa had an anti-communist attitude. We all wonder who reported him. I know it can’t be Michael. Michael would never report on his father. Would he? . . .
One day, when the dark, heavy clouds that have settled over November smell like snow, the storm hits again. It’s almost four weeks since papa’s disappearance. This time, the storm doesn’t strike as a fancy, important looking black automobile. It comes, instead, as a big, noisy transport truck.
We go out to watch as two OGPU officers, with long guns leaning against their shoulders, get out. I notice their clunky boots.
‘You must leave,’ one of them says, handing Mama a letter. ‘Deportation orders. Everybody out of here. There will be a train in Zhitomir. You must be on it by noon tomorrow. This farm land will be shared by all people. It will be part of a collective for the Soviet workers.’
He looks at us children. We’re standing right behind mama. ‘Bring food,’ he adds, ‘if you want to eat.’
Then he touches his royal blue cap, gives a nod and stomps back to the rumbling truck. Doors slam metal on metal and the truck sputters down the leaf blown trail.”
Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic is about the conflict in Bosnia. A young girl with a normal life is suddenly torn away from her home because of the war. It’s a true story. She often directs her comments in her diary to her fish, Mimmy.
BOREDOM!!! SHOOTING!!! SHELLING!!! PEOPLE BEING KILLED!!! DESPAIR!!! HUNGER!!! MISERY!!! FEAR!!!
That’s my life! The life of an innocent eleven-year old schoolgirl!!! A schoolgirl without a school. A child without the fun and excitement of school. A child without games, without friends, without the sun, without birds, without nature, without fruit, without chocolate or sweets, with just a little powdered milk. In short, a child without a childhood. A war time child. I now realize I am living through a war, I am witnessing an ugly, disgusting war. I and thousands of other children in this town that is being destroyed, that is crying, weeping, seeking help, but getting none. God, will this ever stop, will I ever be a schoolgirl again, will I ever enjoy my childhood again? I once heard that childhood is the most wonderful time of your life. And it is. I loved it, and now an ugly war is taking it all away from me. Why? I feel sad. I feel like crying. I am crying.”
In My Enemy’s House, by Carol Matas
The scene takes place in Germany during WWII and begins with two girls hiding in the basement where a Nazi sweeper team finds them and throws them in a truck with other neighbours they have caught:
“Finally, the trucks stopped and we were pushed out. We were at the old castle. In front of the castle before the parapets was a deep ravine — what had been a moat. There were lines of German soldiers with machine guns. There was a long line of Jews. I watched as the Jews were pushed in front of the ravine, five at a time, and then the soldiers opened up on them and they dropped into the ravine. Little children, women, old men . . . Mothers begged for their children’s lives, babies screamed in terror, the old men chanted the Shema. Fanny and I were near the end of the line. I wished we were near the front. Then our suffering would be over.
Fanny said, ‘It’s the Zuckermans.’ I watched Chaike’s mother standing by the ravine, beside her three sons and Chaike. The machine guns exploded. They cried out and then they were gone. I felt woozy and I dropped to the ground, head between my knees.”
These are only a few of the stories that delve into the subject of war and hatred and the atrocities one group of people inflict on another, just because they are different or won’t conform to an expected political view. I have a few more on my shelf that I still need to read, so I will review them another time.
Have you read any YA fiction that deals with this subject? How did the authors handle it?