________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 16 . . . . April 13, 2001

cover Ghost Children.

Lillian Boraks-Nemetz.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2000.
80 pp., pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 0-921870-78-7.

Subject Heading:
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)-Poetry.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Val Nielsen.

*** /4

Ghost Children, Lillian Boraks-Nemetz's first published collection of poetry, consists of 48 poems which explore the spiritual and emotional trauma suffered by child survivors of the Holocaust. Herself a Holocaust survivor, the author was born in Warsaw and emigrated to Canada in 1947. She has written a trilogy of historical fiction for young adults: The Old Brown Suitcase (1995), which won the Sheila A.Egoff Award for children's literature, The Sunflower Diaries, (1999) and The Lenski File (2000).

      The "Ghost Children" of the title refers not only to the one and one-half million children murdered in the Holocaust but also to the many child survivors who, in the author's words "...had no language with which to describe our visions of terror...we simply felt and observed, remaining silent like trees." Boraks-Nemetz believes that the soul of a Holocaust child survivor is forever scarred and that its ghost will seek to redeem the past through tenacious and unforgiving memories.

      It is those searing memories that provide the material for the poems in the first section of the anthology, entitled "Wound." Each short poem is vivid and filled with painful images. Many have a nightmare quality to them. In "Journey," the second section of the book, the author travels to Europe to visit the concentration camps, ghettos and towns where Jews once flourished. In the Cracow market ("Cracow: The Dichotemy"), the poet finds smiling yellow-haired Polish dolls arranged beside sober black-coated Hassidic dolls. In "A Walk Through the Warsaw Ghetto," she writes: "humans stroll these grounds/seeking shade while history/ smoulders beneath their feet."

      Finally in "Healing," the third section of Ghost Children, the bitterness of the earlier poems begins to give way to feelings of hope and redemption. "The Gardener of Children" is a powerful poem in memory of Janus Korczak, a Polish Jewish pediatrician who sacrificed his life for 200 Jewish orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto. Her last poem, "Flickers in the Dark," expresses the idea that the risen ghosts of memory give birth to words which, like flickers in the dark, can throw light onto the long shadow cast by hatred and prejudice. By using poetry to share her painful journey, Lillian Boraks-Nemetz has made an important contribution to the elimination of those twin evils.

      Lillian Boraks-Nemetz' collection should provide an invaluable resource for teachers whose students are involved in studying the Holocaust and reading young adult novels set during that terrible time. Moved as they so often are to write poetry in response to their reading, young readers will find themselves inspired by the poems in Ghost Children. A helpful glossary of place names and words used throughout the book appears at the end of the volume, a feature that will undoubtedly increase students' understanding of the poems and their setting.


Valerie Nielsen is a retired teacher-librarian living in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364