On August 26th, the website Jewcy.com published a critique of A Year of Borrowed Men. The article asks why there has not been any conversation about the absence of the Holocaust in this World War II story. We would like to have that conversation.
In today’s global climate, we saw a lot of value in telling a story about people who refuse to hate others just because they are told they should. Seven-year-old Gerda was told to treat the Frenchmen as prisoners, but she could only see them as human. Because of that, she and the men were able to show each other small kindnesses in spite of the larger horrors at play.
This book takes place in Germany, at the time when the Holocaust was taking place. The real life of Gerda was of course affected by the actions of the German state. But beyond the conscription of her father and brother and the appearance of the Prisoners of War, she understood little of it. We deliberately told a non-fiction story from a child’s perspective, and it would have been potentially irresponsible to force in perspectives that weren’t hers.
Is understanding the full picture of the war, including the Holocaust, important for children today? Of course it is. And we hope parents, teachers, and librarians will pair A Year of Borrowed Men with other books that tell those stories. We hope our book, which is written for an adult to read to a young child, will spark questions and conversations that will open history up to young listeners.
A point that Jewcy readers particularly wanted to discuss was the incident in which Gerda’s mother was threatened by authorities for allowing the French prisoners of war to eat at the family table. If this has been perceived as making a hero of someone at the expense of millions who suffered far more, we sincerely regret that. Here is the value we see in that scene:
If we never show the human face of a conflict, we can write off terrible crimes as the actions of an evil person, an evil regime. But how did ordinary humans become cogs in the wheel of that regime? Maybe they were tempted by power. Maybe they were threatened by authorities. Maybe they, like the people in Gerda’s community, were trained to protect themselves by reporting on their neighbours. We need to know, so that we can recognize these things when they happen in the world today.
And because those things have happened and are happening, we respond by telling stories. Stories from all the perspectives we can get. Tell us yours. Tell us what you think of the ones we’ve told. Tell us how best we can communicate with you. We want to listen.