CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 18. . . .January 11, 2013
Elie Wiesel: Holocaust Survivor and Messenger for Humanity. (Crabtree Groundbreaker Biographies).
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2012.
112 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (RLB.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-2555-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-2552-7 (RLB).
Weisel, Elie, 1928- -Juvenile literature.
Authors, French, 20th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Jewish authors-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Holocaust survivors-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Shelbey Krahn.
Eating nothing but snow, the prisoners marched to a railroad track in the middle of nowhere. When a train finally came, the SS stuffed 100 men into each open-topped cattle car. Every so often, during the train's journey deeper into German territory, it would stop, so the prisoners and guards could toss out the dead bodies of men who had starved or frozen to death.
At one stop, a German worker walking by the train threw a piece of bread into a boxcar. "There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs," wrote Elie. Before long, other passersby started throwing bread, too, just to watch the spectacle of skeleton-like figures attacking each other. By the time the train arrived at its final destination, Buchenwald, a camp in the center of modern-day Germany, all but 12 of the original 100 prisoners in Elie's railcar had perished. They had traveled about 435 miles (700 km) from Auschwitz—and Shlomo was barely alive.
This book is more than an admirable biography of Elie Wiesel – Auschwitz survivor, writer of 50 books, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; it is an excellent introduction to World War II history. On most two page spreads, there are three ways to experience the history: Elie's story (paraphrased and/or quoted), a relevant photograph, and a mini-essay on a related topic. For instance, when Elie is being sorted as he enters Auschwitz, we read his own words, see a photo of mothers and children selected to die in the gas chambers, and read an article on Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death with an accompanying photo. The inserts and photos deepen the reader's understanding and also serve as breaks from Elie's story. I appreciated the breaks because they helped me balance the emotional and cerebral aspects of the story.
The biographer uses smooth and easy to understand language, but does not shy away from hard philosophical questions, sad betrayals, or horrific atrocities. The target audience for the book are adolescents, but even adults will not find its contents condescending or simplistic.
The first two-thirds of the biography, which deal with the war and immediate aftermath, are quite fascinating. The last third, in which Elie gets museums built and wins many awards, is still interesting, but it does not have as many of Elie's original words and does not convey how truly gifted a speaker he is. The reader could be left with the idea that Elie is obsessed with remembering the Holocaust, a man heavy with sadness. I heard him speak many years ago right after I read his masterpiece Night, and I anticipated a weighty lecture; instead, he spoke with exuberance and laughter, full of insight and brilliance, and I do not remember him mentioning the Holocaust at all.
The biography is excellently put together, from the abundance of detail and the succinctness of the articles to the glossary, chronology, and the index. Every elementary school library, secondary school library, and public library should own a copy.
Shelbey Krahn is a teacher-librarian and worked at Laurentian University's School of Education. She treasures the great depth of Holocaust literature written for children.
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