I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to read three books about the Holocaust in a row. I’ll be honest — it was not easy to do. It’s an emotional subject for me and by the end of this book I craved something less tragic.
Nevertheless, I remain fascinated and energized. A lot of nonfiction that we read deals with struggle and hardship. I’m continually fascinated by the human capacity for resilience, hope, forgiveness, and persistence, so it’s no wonder that I read a lot about it.
Still, this will be my last post about a Holocaust book for a while. Stay tuned . . . I rewatched Schindler’s List recently, so that book is waiting in my TBR* pile when I find the resilience to read it.
I bought Schloss’s book because it is a book about the Holocaust geared for children. I teach young people, so I wanted to add this book to my classroom library. My students are older than the age this book is for, but I think the beauty of children’s literature is that it can take something complex — like a young girl’s experience during the Holocaust — and make it relatable for readers, even if they are getting their first drivers’ licenses, applying for the SAT or college, or registering to vote for the first time.
Eva Schloss (neé Geiringer) is the step-daughter of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank (see my post on The Legacy of Anne Frank by Gillian Walnes Perry). Eva and her mother, Fritzi, encountered Otto during their time at Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war and their return to Amsterdam, Eva, her mother, and Otto remained close, surviving off of the understanding they each had of their experience.
Fritzi and Otto eventually married and Otto became a second father to Eva, helping her cope with her feelings after surviving the Holocaust. As a family, they became human rights activists, promoting acceptance and peace across the globe.
In fact, Eva — now 90 years old — continues her work as a human rights activist. She recently spoke last month in Naperville, Illinois (tickets were sold out before I even heard!).
Additionally, my English 10 class recently read this article where Schloss intervened when high school students posted pictures and videos of themselves giving Nazi salutes on social media. She stressed the importance of Holocaust education for young people to curb these types of ignorant behaviors.
That is, no doubt, part of why she wrote The Promise. In The Promise (Lexiled at 6-8 grade), Schloss tells the story of her life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The story revolves around her and her older brother, Heinz. As the persecution that the Geiringer family faced grew, Heinz asked their father, Erik, what would happen to them if they died at the hands of the Nazis. Their father, affectionately known as “Pappy,” said:
We are part of a long chain of people. You and I are each one of the links. So are Evi, Mutti, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the people we know and love, even those we don’t know. Every link is important . . . .Children, I promise you this: everything you do leaves something behind; nothing gets lost. All the good you have accomplished will continue in the lives of the people you have touched. It will make a difference to someone, somewhere, sometime, and your achievements will be carried on. Everything is connected, like a chain that cannot be brokenSchloss 64-5
Schloss’s book hinges on this promise her father made to her and her brother before the Nazis deported them to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Schloss writes extensively about how difficult it was for her to understand as a child what happened and why it happened to her. She is frank about how her harrowing experiences as a victim at the hands of the Nazis affected her worldview and her sense of faith.
Schloss makes it clear that her recovery from her time at Auschwitz and the loss of family was as difficult and agonizing as the experience itself. She recounts how she lost her faith in her god and it was up to her loved ones — her mother, Otto, her husband, her children, and her grandchildren — to help her recover her belief system:
I realized that my Jewish faith is a gift, and I would never change it. I believe that God was not responsible for the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust; that God gives us a free will and it is up to us to choose between good and evil. The Nazis chose evil and the whole world has suffered as a resultSchloss 140
Sometimes, we feel the need to shelter young people from the horrors of the world. It is an instinct rooted in our own traumas and the love we feel for our children.
But, I also believe in the free will Schloss talks about here and that our children have a right to exercise that free will. It is our responsibility to help them exercise that free will for good, not evil. By sharing stories like Eva’s, we help our young people use their freedom to help those who have their freedom taken from them.
I highly recommend this book for all of us, especially our children. If you have young people in your life who are starting to be curious about the world, buy them this book. If you teach, put this book in your classroom library (even if your students are big kids, like mine). If you have young children, prepare yourself to talk to them about the world — its darkness as well as its light. The Promise is a great place to start.
Trigger Warnings: antisemitism, genocide, starvation, war