Chapter One: Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature 7
1.1. How to define children’s literature 7
1.2. Why Holocaust literature for the young? 10
1.3. The problems of representing the Holocaust 12
1.3.1. The problem of language 13
1.3.2. The problem of audience 15
1.3.3. The problem of authenticity 19
1.4. The Holocaust in picture books 22
Chapter Two: Picture Books and Other Difficulties in Translating Children’s Literature 24
2.1. The characteristics of picture books 24
2.2. The challenges and strategies of translating children’s literature 30
2.3. Translating the Holocaust in (picture) books for children 32
Chapter Three: Case Study; Methodology 33
3.1. Constructing a comparative study 33
3.2. Preliminary data 36
3.3. Macro level 39
3.4. Micro level 41
Chapter Four: Picture Books for the Young – Erika’s Verhaal 44
4.1. Preliminary data 44
4.2. Macro level – similarities 46
4.3. Alterations on the micro level and their effects on the macro level 49
4.4. Systemic context and conclusion 52
Chapter Five: Picture Books for the Young – Het Feesten kan beginnen 54
5.1. Preliminary data 54
5.2. Macro level – similarities 56
5.3. Alterations on the micro level and their effects on the macro level 59
5.4. Systemic context and conclusion 62
Chapter Six: Picture Books for the Young – Opa en het geluk 63
6.1. Preliminary data 63
6.2. Macro level – similarities 65
6.3. Alterations on the micro level and their effects on the macro level 69
6.4. Systemic context and conclusion 71
Chapter Seven: Picture Books for the Young – Roosje Weiss 73
7.1. Preliminary data 73
7.2. Macro level – similarities 75
7.3. Alterations on the micro level and their effects on the macro level 78
7.4. Systemic context and conclusion 81
7.5. Recapitulation of comparing picture books for young children 82
Chapter Eight: Picture Books age 9-12 – Anne Frank 84
8.1. Preliminary data 84
8.2. Macro level – similarities 86
8.3. Alterations on the micro level and their effects on the macro level 89
8.4. Systemic context and conclusion 92
Chapter Nine: Picture Books age 9-12 – De Kleine Scheepjes 94
9.1. Preliminary data 94
9.2. Macro level – similarities 96
9.3. Alterations on the micro level and their effects on the macro level 99
9.4. Systemic context and conclusion 101
Chapter Ten: Picture Books age 9-12 – Judith en Lisa 102
10.1. Preliminary data 102
10.2. Macro level – similarities 105
10.3. Alterations on the micro level and their effects on the macro level 109
10.4. Systemic context and conclusion 112
10.5. Recapitulation of comparing picture books for children age 9-12 113
Introduction Even though it has been more than 65 years ago that the Second World War came to an end and there are less and less eyewitnesses who can share their story with those of us fortunate enough not to have lived through such a horrific event, the period of 1940-1945 remains tangible in the Netherlands. Each year there are ceremonies in commemoration of those who have died in wars or missions of peace since the Second World War on the national day of remembrance on May 4th (Dodenherdenking) and the following day there are activities and festivals in celebration of the liberation of the Netherlands from Germany (Bevrijdingsdag). Furthermore, the Second World War still centres as an important subject to be studied in history classes for both secondary school students and pupils in the final years of primary school. Power conflicts in general seem to be inherent in human society resulting in a world which appears never to be fully war-free. However, since the Second World War was so atrocious not only in the way Hitler gained and kept power and support, but also how he wanted to annihilate the Jews, many feel the need to make sure something similar will never happen again. Children are constantly confronted with wars in – mostly – far-away countries through television and other media, but they can be introduced to the horrors of a war which was much, much closer to home through education and books. In fact, eyewitnesses, historians and writers alike have been writing about this subject as a means of coming to terms with, preserving the historical events of, and educating readers about the scourges of this war. Especially now that fewer eyewitnesses remain the war may potentially slowly become overshadowed by other more threatening and recent events, such as 9/11 and the War on Terrorism. Since the Second World War may be reduced to another historical subject comparable to the witch trials of the 15th and 16th century, Theodor Adorno’s call for an upbringing primarily concerned with preventing the Holocaust to ever happen again (77) could be regenerated.
Children are likeliest to be introduced to the Holocaust through books, but writing about this sensitive subject is a difficult task in which authenticity and historical accuracy are to be combined (particularly in the case of writers who have not lived through the event, but who have to rely on research) as will be explained in chapter two of this thesis. Besides, writing for children makes matters only worse as it also needs to take into account the readers’ little background knowledge, the amount of horrors child readers can handle, the didactic motivation behind the book, and the narrative styles which will attract the potential reader and encourage him to ask questions regarding the topic of the story. Although it seems hardly possible to write books intended for a child audience about the horrors of the Second World War, those books do exist and are widely read. Moreover, there are even picture books meant for ages five through twelve dealing with this subject. Some of those books may be used in a primary school setting to stimulate conversation about the Second World War, while others might be read at home.
While many scholars have focused their research on the difficulties of writing about war in children’s books (Fox, Brown, Jonathan Lathey and Gillian Lathey), on how the Holocaust is dealt with and represented in children’s literature (Kokkola, Kidd, Bosmajian, Van der Pol, Kertzer, Jordan, Russell, Will, Machet, Walter and March) and on the challenges of translating children’s literature (Oittinen, Shavit, O’Sullivan among others), only a handful of scholars have combined the notions of war (Holocaust) and translated literature. The fact that some of the books discussed in existing literature on war/Holocaust and children’s literature are translated is not denied, but it is also hardly ever elaborated upon, let alone taken as the main focus of the research. Conducting a comparative research on translating strategies in children’s books concerned with the Second World War might, however, provide insight into the way cultures engage their child readers with such an atrocious subject matter and subsequently unto what children will learn from reading such a book. Hence, this thesis will focus on translated picture books and the way they deal with the Holocaust.
Because of the peripheral position of children’s literature in the literary polysystem, translators appear to have a great amount of freedom to manipulate the text they are translating (Shavit, “Translation of Children’s Literature” 26). While this will be further explained in chapter three, here it suffices to mention that in the case of picture books this freedom might even be expanded as picture books may not even be considered literature in the first place. On the other hand, the interplay between text and picture combined with the seriousness of the subject matter might result in a restriction of this freedom, because the translator will have to obey to the historical accuracy and the message conveyed through the illustrations.
In an attempt to research how translators translating foreign picture books into Dutch deal with a sensitive subject such as the Holocaust and whether or not their translating strategies seem to differ when various age groups are concerned, comparison will be made between source and target texts of a variety of originally English, German and French picture books intended for children ranging between five and twelve years old. A comparative study will hopefully reveal which translating strategies are considered to be useful for dealing with atrocious subject matters (hence it will shed light on the amount of freedom translators allow themselves to have), what different cultures deem appropriate reading material for their youth and how these factors can affect various interpretations. The first two chapters of this thesis will be devoted to a theoretical background on Holocaust literature for children and the translation of children’s literature, respectively. Chapter two will also discuss the phenomenon of the picture book and its characteristics. Chapters three through ten will cover the practical aspect of this thesis; the comparative case study. Seven picture books will be used for this case study, divided into two categories based on the age group of their intended audience. Chapter three will give an overview of the methodology used before moving on to the actual research in the following chapters. Chapters four through seven will discuss the comparison of those picture books meant for children ages five to nine, with each chapter dealing with one specific book, while chapters eight up through ten will analyse those books intended for children age nine to twelve. Comparison will be done on the basis of language use (including grammar), atrocious issues, perspectives and extra textual elements such as lay-out and prologues/epilogues, but see chapter three for an exact explanation of the methodology. Finally, a conclusion will be offered in which the findings of the case study will be recapped. In the appendix, several tables can be found which contain the source and target text for each individual narrative, placed next to each other to facilitate the process of comparison.
Chapter One: Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature 1.1. How to define children’s literature
Before plunging into two specific areas of children’s literature (picture books and translation) and examining how, when combined, these can influence historical awareness, it is important to figure out what children’s literature is exactly, and how it differs from adult literature. In the introduction of her work on Peter Pan and children’s literature, Jacqueline Rose, author of children’s books, touches upon the impossibility of children’s literature (1). This entails, according to Rose, that children’s fiction depends on ‘the impossible relation between adult and child’ (1). This relation is impossible because the two actors involved are wide apart and do not come together; every children’s books is first created by an adult and then received by a child but the two cannot secure the relationship via the text, because the child is kept at bay in the process of creation (2). Even though the relationship between adult and child, between author and addressee, appears impossible or at least unbalanced for there is a major difference between the two, this relationship is one of the most important characteristics of children’s literature. The relationship adult-child is not only defined by its imbalance, but can also be found in the writing process and the distribution of the texts and hence, in turn, helps to define children’s literature. Rita Ghesquiere, in her book on children’s literature, mentions how the child image of the adult writer has a major influence on the content of the text (17). In other words, the writer creates a text with a child image in mind and this image determines the author’s implied reader. According to Ghesquiere, the writer’s child image is formed by a mixture of real children close to the author, the author’s idea of his/her own childhood, pedagogical views and an idealised notion of the child in general (90). The relationship adult-child (in this case a twofold relationship, both adult-real child and adult-ideal child/child of the past) clearly influences the writing process of every children’s book. At the same time, the adult also plays an important role in determining which texts are considered children’s literature, as Emer O’Sullivan points out. According to her, children’s literature differs precisely on this point from adult literature: not the text itself or the audience define the work as literature, but the adult agencies/institutions involved in producing the books do so, when they assign texts to children they deem appropriate or suitable (13-14). Ghesquiere also acknowledges this role of the adult (23). Again, the relationship adult-child becomes apparent. This idea could even be taken further when the intended audience is considered. In the case of children’s literature, it is often the adult who buys the book for the child and hence who stimulates the child in becoming acquainted with a certain type of text. A children’s book, therefore, should not only appeal to the intended child reader, but also to his/her parent or teacher who can provide the child with the text. Furthermore, adults regularly read to very young children and may read children’s books for their own pleasure as well. Thus the book has a double or dual address of both child and adult (O’Sullivan, 16). Sometimes children’s books even communicate directly to the adult (Ghesquiere, 24) when they leave gaps in the text the adult can fill, but the child cannot.
Not only should the distinct characteristic of adult-child relationship be considered when discussing children’s literature, but function, status and literary devices come into play as well. Zohar Shavit explains that, when it comes to the function of the text, adult and children’s literature used to hold similar stances. In the past, adult literature was used as a tool for conveying didactic ideological messages (Shavit, 126). The difference lies in the fact that this didactic motivation behind writing a text has disappeared in adult literature while it is still prominently visible in children’s literature (126). Today, adult literature functions as an instrument for recreation and entertainment and holds highly aesthetic value as a work of art. Ghesquiere sets out the various functions of children’s literature and literature in general and from her findings the conclusion can be drawn that even though some functions are taken up by both sorts of literature, the way this is done always differs; the key aspect being the didactic or pedagogical motivation. Both adult literature and children’s literature can be seen as a means of communication, but in the case of the latter there is an intermediary (i.e. an adult mediator) interfering in the process (22-24). Both adult and children’s literature can be considered a work of art, but more often than not the children’s book does not live up to artistic value because it lacks profundity and merely contains a didactic message combined with an ‘empty adventure’ (24-28). Literature in general can be seen as a process of language acquisition in that it encourages creativity and stimulates imagination and a search for logic and meaning, but in literature for children this is always connected with the didactic motive (119). Language use is part of this particular function as well. Literary language is applauded in adult literature, for it enhances the aesthetic value, while children’s novels are usually written in a less difficult style (probably deliberately so, because the author would not want to risk a failure in conveying his/her message) and even when literary language is used, it is, as Shavit points out, a didactic tool for vocabulary (128). Other functions literature can hold are psychological (identification/entertainment), social (providing a particular view on society) and intellectual (informative/aesthetic), but again, in children’s literature these functions are embedded in and subordinate to the didactic motive (Ghesquiere, 120-127). However, literature and indeed children’s literature is not a fixed phenomenon. Over time, boundaries are changing and certain functions and characteristics might come to dominate others, which can lead to the breaking of taboos and a different form of children’s literature.
That literature is a system open to change can be explained in connection to the status of texts. Itamar Even-Zohar has developed a theory, the so-called literary polysystem theory, in which literature is considered a dynamic system involving norms, models and cultural, social and historical relations. Each work of literature holds a position is this network and this position determines the status a text has. Texts in the peripheral part of the system tend to have a lower status than those in the central part. However, a text is not fixed in a certain position, but can move along the network in time. Generally speaking, children’s literature has occupied a peripheral position, while adult literature holds a central position (192-97). The relatively low status of children’s literature becomes even more apparent from some of the work by literary scholars focussing on adult literature. Piet Mooren, in his book on how picture books can be used as a means of cultural spread, quotes the literary field as constructed by Van Rees & Dorleijn. This field includes all the participants in producing, distributing and reviewing literature, but surprisingly fails to recognise the position of children’s literature (Mooren, 97). It does mention literary education, but only for those in secondary school and beyond: the books read in primary school appear redundant. Literary professor J.G. Bomhoff even dared to describe children’s literature as trash, leftovers of what once was literature (Mooren, 97). However, a couple of years later Bomhoff reconsidered his statement and claimed that children’s literature indeed could be regarded as literature (Mooren, 98).
A final characteristic of children’s literature is linked to the literary device of plot. Shavit mentions that establishing a solid plot involving action has the highest priority in children’s literature, because plot and action are regarded as the central elements of children’s novels (124). Hence, a valid storyline is often chosen above complex characterisation and writers are less likely to include irony in texts for the young (124), while adult literature seems to focus more on style rather than action. Besides, the protagonist in children’s novels is usually a child and the ending normally brings an optimistic message (Myles McDowell qtd. In Walter and March, 37).
Of course, the term children’s literature covers many different genres and age groups and can be considered a very broad term. Obviously, there will be differences in the above mentioned characteristics between books intended for toddlers, schoolchildren, teenagers or young adults even though all of these books are categorised as children’s literature. For example, the dual address will be less apparent from books directed at teenagers and young adults, as they themselves have more opportunity to choose their own books and do not need an adult to read with them. On the other hand, those books are more eligible for becoming books adults read for their own pleasure as well. Also, teenage and young adult books will probably be less didactic (and possibly more artistic) and might involve more difficult language than those intended for younger readers. However, the characteristics outlined in this paragraph do, to some extent, apply to all children’s literature texts.
Why Holocaust literature for the young?
As mentioned in the introduction to this thesis, literature can be a useful tool
for explaining to children the events of the Second World War. It is a means of education and can raise historical awareness. It also, as Hamida Bosmajian points out in her book on narratives about Nazism for young readers, tries to establish possibilities for the youth to extract meaning from the narratives: the reader reflects on the events, on the ideas behind evil, virtue and prejudice and in doing so literature reinforces confidence in humanity (134). James Young, in his book on Holocaust writing, claims that when it comes to this historical period, texts and events hold an unbreakable relationship, because ‘[w]hat is remembered … depends on how it is remembered, and how events are remembered depends in turn on the texts now giving them form’ (1). Thus, Holocaust literature functions as an instrument for remembrance with the aim of preventing a repetition of events. Furthermore, as Piet Mooren points out, historical children’s novels and picture books relate more to the child’s level of understanding than many textbooks and due to their possibilities of identification motivate pupils more into interest in history lessons than do regular textbooks (261). Bosmajian claims that narratives about the Holocaust constitute a grieving process by having the reader undergo identification and rejection (xvi). However, the unresolved grief intrinsic in the text is overshadowed by the didactic plea for remembrance (xv).
In her book on the representation of the Holocaust in children’s literature, Lydia Kokkola explains the charm as well as the unattractiveness of stories dealing with the Holocaust (129). Kokkola tries to investigate this oppositional conduct by researching text-based elements such as ‘page-turning quality’ and entertainment (130). She also points out, though, that while her research is done by looking at texts and their qualities, the reader’s role should not be overlooked as he/she ultimately decides whether or not a text is read and enjoyed (130). Holocaust literature can be considered as part of the genre of horror, since it displays horrific events and can scare the reader with a world which seems unbearable and impossible, but which, unfortunately, has been a reality. Kokkola quotes Marina Warner who, in her study of fear in written works, has found three ways in which terror and anxiety can be enjoyed: ‘scaring, lulling, and making mock’(Kokkola, 131). Even though adult writers will probably try not to frighten the child reader too much, an element of horror will become apparent from Holocaust texts and thus the child reader can indeed feel scared or at least uncomfortable while reading about these events. Kies, also quoted in Kokkola, believes that fear and anxiety appeals, because it is immediately followed by a relief that the situations described do not exist in real life (131). Robert Bloch adds to this that in the case of Holocaust literature, which after all describes events which were most certainly real, the pleasure of relief is felt when the reader returns to the actual world in which the horrors are not present even though they might be somewhere else in that real world (quoted in Kokkola, 131). Hence, for texts dealing with the Second World War to be enjoyable for children, they need to provide psychological closure, so that the reader has a sense of ending and can return to his/her safe and happy world (132). Fear can be conjured up by portraying the enemy (Nazi characters) as monsters to stress the dehumanised nature of the events (134), as outsiders to contrast with the protective family life (135) or as ordinary people to create the possibility of the story to occur within the reader’s own environment (138).
Even though it might seem unethical to elicit a reader response consisting of laughter, another means by which authors can attempt to create a Holocaust text appealing to young readers is humour (149). Kokkola uses Bakhtin’s concept of carnivalesque to explain the kind of humour meant. This means that the order of representation is turned upside down, rules are ignored and readers are given the opportunity to evaluate a parodied and hence ridiculed situation (150). This can be obtained by playing with genre boundaries, using animal characters and alienation (151).
The problems of representing the Holocaust
At first glance, it might not seem too difficult to write a children’s story set in the Second World War. The protagonist could be a child, boy or girl, whose daily life is affected by the war in that he/she experiences ration, curfew, soldiers marching through the streets and perhaps Jewish friends or acquaintances who go missing. However, there is so much more to this war than simply a slightly present grown-up battle in a child’s life: there is hunger, death, fear, coldness, concentration camps, mass murder, persecution, discrimination, danger, annihilation of identity, etc. Precisely these elements are to be conveyed to the child reader for him or her to begin to understand why it is so important similar events will not be repeated. Eric Kimmel, quoted by David Russell, has identified four types of Holocaust literature: resistance novels, refugee novels, occupation novels and narratives about the concentration camps (268). Russell believes that all these aspects (resistance, flight, occupation and death camps) are to be learned about in order to understand the impact of the Holocaust (268). However, some academics strongly believe that understanding will result in sympathy and forgiveness and hence in a justification of the events (Kokkola, 137). Others feel that history can only be learned by understanding and rejecting the motivations behind the events (Kokkola, 138). Nevertheless, children need to be confronted with Holocaust history in order to prevent repetition, but, as Young notes, Holocaust texts can generate multiple meanings and interpretations (4), so the author should take great care in deciding how to tell the story and what to include or omit. Kokkola quotes Terrence Des Pres who has outlined three principles to be taken into account in Holocaust writing:
The Holocaust shall be represented, in its totality, as a unique event, as a special case and kingdom of its own, above or below or apart from history.
Representations of the Holocaust shall be as accurate and faithful as possible to the facts and conditions of the event, without change or manipulation for any reason – artistic reasons included.
The Holocaust shall be approached as a solemn or even sacred event, with a seriousness admitting no response that might obscure its enormity or dishonour its dead. (Kokkola, 10)
Kokkola herself adds two more principles, namely the principle of not forgetting and the idea that ‘[a]ll writing about the Holocaust should adopt an ethical position that fosters resistance to fascist philosophy’ (11). These five principles, according to Kokkola, need to be followed, but when writing for children, they also need to be combined with the conventions present in children’s literature (11). And that is where the problems begin.
The problem of language
Kokkola quotes Wittgenstein who claimed that human knowledge and understanding is limited to the possibilities of human language (15). This means that humans can only grasp things they come across when these are named. However, the Second World War was en event full of atrocities and horrors difficult to put into words. Especially those who experienced it first-hand might struggle to find words that can give meaning to their experiences. Adrienne Kertzer, in her article on children’s literature and the Holocaust, even goes so far as to say that only the dead can fully grasp what happened and that even the camp survivor cannot really understand it (“Do you know”, 240). Language simply seems inadequate to express the brutalities faced in this war or, as Saul Friedländer describes, the extremeness of the Holocaust reality ‘outstrip[s] language’s capacity to represent it’ (qtd. in Young, 16). Even metaphors, as Kokkola notes, are useless in describing the war experience: hyperbole is frequently used in everyday speech and hence has lost its true/literal meaning, while simultaneously readers cannot understand this meaning anyway as it ‘lies beyond the limits of [their] experience’ (15). Bosmajian too feels that the events of the Holocaust ‘cannot be real for those who were not there or those who came after’ (125). Young disagrees with Kokkola though, when he states that metaphors ‘are our only access to the facts’ (91). In other words, the facts of the Holocaust cannot be described without using metaphors. Kertzer, in her article on the memoirs of Isabella Leitner, claims that history, even the facts of history, cannot be relied upon because of the inadequacy of its language (“What happened” 170). Several scholars have tried to respond to the inadequacy of language and have found various solutions. Some believe silence is the only correct way of dealing with the Holocaust since language fails in communicating the horrors, others consider nonfiction to be appropriate because only facts can tell the story of the Second World War and there are also those who argue in favour of fiction (Kokkola, 16). Kokkola acknowledges the reasons for bringing forward the idea of silence, particularly in that using daily language to describe the events of the Holocaust can lead to normalization which consequently may result in a degrading of the importance and extraordinary nature of the events (19). A point also described by Young, who claims that representing the Holocaust in writing, speaking or responding inevitably means that it is placed in relation to other events and by doing so it loses part of its uniqueness (88). At the same time, however, while writing about the Holocaust may lead to normalization and familiarity, silence may result in another unforgivable notion: forgetting (Kokkola, 19). This idea is also brought forward by Young who states that placing the Holocaust in a no-go area in relation to fiction and the imagination could lead to a complete exclusion from the public awareness (133). Kokkola mentions several critics (Adorno, Howe) who reject Holocaust literature on the grounds that an aesthetic form of portraying the Second World War does not do justice to the millions of victims whose lives have been affected by this war, but Kokkola herself considers fiction to be an appropriate form of Holocaust awareness, because it provides readers with a background of the victims who are merely numbers in factual reports and hence elicits emotional responses (23). Bosmajian quotes Claudia Maria Toll who even goes so far as to argue that literary and aesthetic aspects of narratives should be rated more important than educational intentions (105). Elie Wiesel, quoted by Young, believes Holocaust fiction is inappropriate, since it fails to provide facts and the words, when turned literary, change the intended message (Young, 22). David Patterson, as noted by Kokkola, seems to have found a solution to the problem of language by combining fiction with silence. According to him, ‘all Holocaust writing is a form of dialogue with silence’ (Kokkola, 23). This means that things are expressed not by saying them, but by focussing on what is left unsaid (23). Kokkola denotes those silences, those informational gaps, ‘framed silences’ (25). These silences are framed precisely because the reader is aware of their existence and can extract meaning from them. In the case of children’s literature, framed silences can convey and explain the Holocaust, while, at the same time, they protect children from becoming aware of those aspects of the Holocaust they cannot cope with knowing about (Kokkola, 26). However, authors may also try to protect young readers by deliberately withholding information, another form of silence (26). Withholding information is frequently used in adult literature, but in the case of a child audience, it can become problematic as young children may not possess the historical knowledge necessary to fill in the missing information (26).
When writing children’s books about the Holocaust it is important that a suitable and appropriate language can be found, since the texts can influence the reader’s behaviour and beliefs and are hence important factors in shaping a child’s personality and attitude towards, for example, anti-Semitism and racism (Kokkola, 11-12).
The problem of audience
Another major problem in writing Holocaust fiction for children is the intended audience: the child reader. Kokkola notes that in children’s literature the notions of didacticism and protection have to be combined, since this form of literature has had a long tradition of educating and creating a happy and safe reality (9). Combining these notions with the story of the Holocaust is, of course, not an easy task and results in a breaking of taboos, because the world that is created is a true, but frightening world that can lead to unhappy or ambiguous endings (11). As mentioned above, authors sometimes try to protect the child by withholding information, but this should not result in a distorted view of the events described, nor should it question or doubt the truthfulness of the events. Many children’s books on the Holocaust address both the child reader and the adult reading alongside the child (Kokkola, 28). By withholding information from the child which the adult reader can comprehend, the author expects the adult to function as a mediator who decides whether or not to provide the child with the information implicit in the text. In doing so, the text refuses to take ethical responsibility, according to Kokkola (28). On the other hand, every text contains gaps, whether framed or simply withheld, and those gaps, when picked up by the reader engage him/her in the story and stimulate an active reading experience (Iser qtd. in Kokkola, 43). Kokkola hence concludes that few gaps would result in texts that are more ethical, but probably also less interesting (43). Besides, texts without gaps are not only less stimulating and inspiring, but can also be considered less credible (46). Most importantly, the informational gaps ought to be, according to Kokkola, framed silences because those particular gaps help identify where information is missing so that readers become aware of the fact that they might need to fill in the blanks (39).
Another problem linked to the background knowledge and reading skills of the audience is the question of identifying and empathising with the fictional characters. Knowledge of and experience in understanding other human beings in the real world and the possibility to access the mind and thoughts of fictional characters help draw a picture of them, but because children are usually less experienced in this field and lack knowledge of narrative strategies and perspectives, they are more apt to readily accept the character’s views and identify and empathise more easily with these fictional characters (143). This is also acknowledged by Bosmajian who mentions that the author cannot rely on the ‘critical discernment’ of the young reader, because this can lead to misinterpretations and a distortion of the facts (71). The limited knowledge and reading skills may explain why the enemy often is focalised externally and hence why the reader is not permitted to see inside the perpetrator’s mind (Kokkola, 143). The enemy is only known by how he acts so that the child is protected from propaganda language (Bosmajian, 138). However, according to Gillian Lathey in her article on war literature, children’s authors writing about war increasingly try to portray the humanity of all the parties involved in the conflict (“Autobiography and History”, 63). Depicting the enemy clearly is problematic. Not only identification with the enemy should be avoided, but identification with the protagonists can be problematic as well. When child readers quickly identify with protagonists in Holocaust literature, the author will need to protect the readers, because they might become emotionally too attached to the characters and their stories. One way of dealing with this problem of identification is by creating a distance between the protagonist and the reader, so that identification is delayed and repressed and the author can share information with the reader he/she might not be able to handle had he/she felt close to the protagonist (Kokkola, 152). This is in contradiction with the idea coined by Bosmajian that first-person narratives provide a means of censoring and protecting (22). When a story is told from a first-person perspective, the author can limit the information made explicit because the situation is seen from one perspective rather than by an omniscient narrator. Limiting the information protects the child from knowing too much. Of course, at the same time, first-person narratives invite a closer relationship between reader and character and hence increase the chance of identification. Other critics feel that the child reader can be protected by balancing information, so showing both the good and the evil (Jordan, 200), but also, in agreement with Bosmajian, by personalising history by means of identification with the child protagonist so the reader can gradually learn about the events simultaneously with the growing awareness of the protagonist (Jordan, 201). Thus, it seems that having a child protagonist on the one hand helps bringing in distance between the events and the character so as not to scare the reader, while at the same time it stimulates identification which, in turn, can emotionally overwhelm the child reader. Using a gentile narrator is another strategy employed to create distance, because this assures that the events cannot come too close; they are witnessed but not experienced (Jordan, 209). Ido Abram, inspired by Adorno’s call for an upbringing focused on preventing the Holocaust, has written an instruction on how to raise children in awareness of Auschwitz. He constructed a step-by-step plan for educating children, which can be conducted by having them engage with the life stories of those who have witnessed the war (5). One of these steps involves having the child empathise with the various groups present in the war (victims, perpetrators, bystanders) (6). Abram hence seem to applaud identification as a process of awareness and education.
Children’s literature traditionally holds happy endings consisting of some form of closure (Kokkola, 154). Children’s literature dealing with the Holocaust often also provides closure at the end of the story, be it, in Kokkola’s terms, ‘structural closure’ (the plot has come to a conclusion), ‘psychological closure’ (the protagonist’s conflicts are resolved) or ‘aptitude’ (multiple interpretations, open ending) (154-155). Structural closure appears most commonly, perhaps because it meets the requirement of a happy ending for young readers (155). However, the most extreme form of closure is also frequently used in Holocaust literature: death (160). According to Kenneth Kidd, the dead/wounded child is a trope which symbolises the transmission of trauma (126) and inflicts ‘narrative engagement’ (129). He also states that, in order to fully understand historical events, the young reader must experience it as personally traumatic (133), which explains the importance of narrative engagement and personalisation. At the same time, although death might seem a cruel ending for a young audience, it also opens up the idea of a happy afterlife (Kokkola, 160). Thus, although children’s literature dealing with the Holocaust appears to break taboos and is constantly in search of ways to make the facts accessible, a happy ending seems inevitable as a convention of literature for the young and death cannot be given the final word. This is understandable, according to Bosmajian, but at the same it may do injustice to those murdered during this period (xxi). Each text aims to present a way of coming to terms with the events in an attempt to educate the child reader about history. Holocaust literature, according to Russell, is always didactic in that it carries a message, but even though the reader must not be shocked or frightened, the message cannot be softened: the reader must be told the truth (278-279). Bosmajian stresses that the child reader will not learn all there is to know about the Holocaust by reading one or two books about this historical period. She states that at best, the child may be stimulated to indulge himself in more narratives on the subject, but that this hardly ever happens (xx). Besides, in the case of a survivor’s narrative, even though the young reader may feel inclined to ask questions and expand his/her knowledge of the subject, genuine communication between narrator and reader is impossible because the gap between experience and recollection and between then and now is too wide to be bridged (141). Nonetheless, not writing children’s literature on the Holocaust may lead to a vicious circle in which less is read because less is written.
Another way of protecting the child reader is by focussing on the act of seeing and reporting, rather than feeling and evaluating, as is noted by both Bosmajian (196) and Kertzer (“What happened”, 173). Similarly, death can be depicted in the context of ‘the method of the general killing’ without evidently linking it to personal grief (175). In this way, the text discourages identification and stimulates a narrative emphasising the facts, but it can also reduce the liveliness of the text. Protecting the child not only means happy endings, silences and a child perspective, but can also be found in the setting of the story. Hardly any children’s story is set within the borders of the concentration camp (Kertzer “Do You Know”, 245). When concentration camps are touched upon in the narrative, the victim usually escapes or an outsider’s perspective is used to create distance (245). This, according to Kertzer, only increases the inability to understand the Holocaust, because it fails to face the concentration camp life and stimulates the idea that something positive can come of mass murder (248).
Virginia Walter and Susan March state, in their article on picture books about the Holocaust, that the context in which a Holocaust narrative is read is equally important for comprehension and reader response as the content or format (49). They believe that the child reader requires information on the context, provided by the book itself or by an adult, to understand the events described. A commonly understood context in which the Second World War is annually remembered and the child is regularly confronted with the effects of this war helps in grasping the meaning of Holocaust literature (49).
The problem of authenticity
After fighting the problems of language and audience and thus coming up with a story appropriate for a child using language that appears meaningful and adequate, there remains another problem: authenticity. Kokkola mentions that books dealing with historical events always appear to cause problems for literary critics and historians, but that Holocaust literature differs from other historical novels in two respects (1). The first of those two is already touched upon, namely the fact that the events are too atrocious to describe in normal words, and the other factor is linked to historical accuracy. Writers of Holocaust fiction need to take extra care in their representation of historical events, because the events of the Holocaust have been subject to denial, a notion unique to this particular historical period (2). It is thus important that the child reader can separate fact from fiction, while at the same time the story must represent history as accurate as possible so there will be no room for the child to dismiss the facts (2). Holocaust fiction is a form of historical literature and this means that such a text has to be both a piece of ‘good history and good literature’ (Kokkola, 47). In the case of Holocaust literature for the young, good history would entail a text which provides the reader with a clear understanding of the events, but also of history’s factuality (49). The reader should be given the opportunity to comprehend and interpret what has happened, although, particularly when it comes to children’s literature, he/she should not be frightened. Using the narrative form to convey historical events can be problematic, though, because it creates a difficulty in ‘distinguishing between the factuality of fiction and the fictionality of historical facts’ (White qtd. in Kokkola, 52). On the other hand, the narrative form appears to be most effective in presenting historical events, as children ‘”think” in terms of stories and are able to discover the fundamental truths revealed by stories long before they are capable of thinking in abstract terms’ (Ewers qtd. in Kokkola, 54). Narratives thus provide children with a means of communication and making sense of the world around them. Clearly, authors need to find a balance between fictionality and factuality when mixing actual events with fictional characters in writing for a young audience about the Holocaust. This mixing, according to Young, leads to ambiguity (Young, 52). The writer on the one hand deprives himself of the notion to be historically exact since he invokes fictional characters, while at the same time he claims historical authority by describing real events (52). Many texts dealing with the Holocaust try to solve the problem of finding a balance between fact and fiction by using paratexts to provide the young reader with information on this balance (Kokkola, 2). However, these paratexts are not without problems, according to Kokkola. Placing a historical document in a fictional text alters the credibility of both texts and questions the relationship between fact and fiction (60). This questioning can be seen as an inducement to interpretation on the side of the reader, but also opens up the idea that the author has played with the factual documents to make them fit in the context of the story and hence the relationship between fact and fiction can be negatively influenced. Furthermore, in the case of a novel based on real characters in which the factuality of these figures and events are explained in a postscript, this information comes too late, because the reader will already have interpreted the characterisation of the various characters under the assumption that they were wholly fictional (110-111). Young also notes that readers react differently to texts which are believed to be true stories and those which are merely considered works of fiction (62). Besides, paratexts are not always read by the child reader anyway (Kokkola, 60). In other words, paratext can be helpful in explaining the material and adding historical value to the narrative, but an author cannot rely on paratexts alone. The story itself has to breathe truthfulness and historical accuracy as well (61). This can be done by means of language use (61), text-picture interplay (64), time and place interaction (67) and inclusion of details (71) as will be elaborated upon in chapter three of this thesis.
Another factor influencing the notion of reliability and historical exactitude is the kind of writing concerned. Witness-writing in which the author skilfully describes his/her experiences during the Second World War might be treated differently by the reader from writing constructed via research. This is especially so, because many historians feel there to be a difference ‘between the hard facts of the Holocaust and the perceived softness in their literary reconstruction’ (Young, 6). By offering a link between the events described and the witness’ personal life, witness-writings try to establish authenticity in promising truth and sincerity (Kokkola, 94). Young denominates this authenticating the ‘rhetorical aspect of testimony’ (31). After all, the assumption that witnesses are inherently more exact in their accounts than writers who were not present and that witnesses’ intention guarantees accuracy still stands (Kokkola, 95). Especially young readers who lack practice in reading autobiographical fiction may, once attended to the fact that the author is a flesh-and-blood witness, be quick to fully accept the witness account without realising that this writing too is constructed (85). Even critics appear to automatically trust works written by Holocaust witnesses, as Kokkola notes, and where research based fiction can expect thorough evaluation of the historical accuracy, the truthfulness of witness writing is less likely to be questioned by critics, let alone by young readers lacking analytical experience (102). As opposed to failing to recognise the historicity of the text, this may lead to a failure in identifying the fictive part of the text and hence result in an unsuccessful conveyance of history. One of the problems with life writing is that it is largely based on memory. Even though this may seem reliable, memories ‘can be altered, repressed or implanted’ and are subjective (Kokkola, 112). This is also the case because, as pointed out by Young, memory consciously or unconsciously modifies past events (182). Witness accounts therefore are not objective and can be seen as an interpretation of the events which may need further information and viewpoints to complete the picture. On the other hand, using aspects of memory can add authenticity to the text, according to Sue Vice. In her opinion, using devices such as prolepsis, analepsis, repetition and failing recollection strengthen the credibility of the story (Vice qtd. in Kokkola, 120). Once again, it seems that writers need to find a balance between fact and fiction in the way they convey to their young audience the constructiveness of the text concerned.
Bosmajian notes that heroism also forms a difficulty in creating children’s fiction dealing with the Holocaust. Many such works, according to Bosmajian, elevate the victim to a heroic position, namely the ‘heroic survivor’ (143). This is probably done to fulfil the desire to maintain a positive message and happy ending, but, combined with the ever changing memories of the Second World War, can slowly lead to the creation of legend or myth (245) and hence to a diminishing of historicity and fact.
M. Machet touches upon the avoidance of stereotypes, besides historical accuracy and cultural authority, as a means of establishing authenticity in Holocaust writing. Stereotypes should not only be avoided because of its inauthentic quality, but also because ‘stereotypes were one of the means used by Nazis to create anti-Semiticism [sic] and to alienate Jews’ and because children’s attitudes towards other races are based upon the attitudes prevalent in their environment (114). The depiction of various races or groups in books can hence influence the child’s perceptions and behaviour (114).
The Holocaust in picture books
Usually, picture books are considered to be books consisting of either illustrations only, illustrations supported by text or vice versa, and they are generally connected with a very young audience. It would thus seem surprising to learn that picture books dealing with the Second World War exist. These books are perhaps not meant for the very young (age 0-5), but can be read by slightly older children and their parents and may provide useful tools in history education. The nature and characteristics of the picture book will be explained and elaborated upon in chapter two, but it would seem appropriate here to link the above-mentioned problems in Holocaust writing with the picture book genre.
One of the most important aspects of the picture book is, of course, the illustration. Combining text with illustrations opens up a relationship in which the parties can collaborate, complete each other or conflict with each other. The textual gaps mentioned above can possibly be filled by the pictures when they make visible withheld information. Kokkola, however, considers this unethical when the child reader is not able to detect these gaps even though the adult reader might recognise them in the pictures (38). Nevertheless, pictures might be able to express the inexpressible. The illustration also provides a means of establishing historical authenticity, but this depends on its modality. On the scale of modality, some critics rank photographic and realistic illustrations higher than abstract or surrealistic ones (64). Thus realistic pictures help add credibility to the historical accuracy of the story. However, others feel that this evaluation is judgmental and subjective and focus on the interplay between word and picture (65). Historical accuracy can then be reached on several levels, including modality and characterisation (65). Pictures also help in creating a ‘chronotype’ (a concept developed by Bakhtin) in which a sense of place and time is launched. This place has to both familiar (in order to be understood) and strange (in order to separate it from the reader’s own time) and can be achieved by using images associated with the Holocaust (Kokkola, 68). Kokkola also mentions Rosemary Johnston and her discussion of the ‘visual chronotype’, which explains the interaction between picture and text and refers not only to the relationship between place and time, but also to ‘the relationship of people and events to time and space’ (69).
Because the picture book is linked to a young audience and hence seen as an innocent genre, it usually simplifies and de-contextualise the Holocaust so that the disaster is reduced and turned into a story with a positive message (Bosmajian, 216). Virginia Walter and Susan March quote Arthur Applebee in their article on picture books about the Holocaust, who has studied children’s responses to texts (38). He has found that children age 2-6 are unable to comprehend the overall structure of a plot, children age 7-11 can summarise the plot, but will ‘attribute their subjective responses to the work itself rather than to their own subjective condition’ and children age 12-15 can analyse and interpret the plot and their own responses to the text (38). These findings suggest that young readers will struggle with fully understanding the message and events of Holocaust writing. However, Coosje van der Pol, in her dissertation on war fiction, describes features which can influence the reader’s perception in stimulating him/her to reflect on the events of war: setting and perspective (44), displaying good and evil (45), open ending and hence unresolved matters (46), credibility through realistic pictures and paratextual information (47) and colour and tone (48). The use of colour can influence the way the story is received by stimulating sentimentality, dreaminess or fairy tale characteristics (Bosmajian, 222).
Another problem with Holocaust picture books (and Holocaust children’s books in general) is categorisation. How to categorise the books concerned? Because they remain works of fiction, it would seem satisfactory to place these books on the shelf among other works of fiction. However, the historical aspect of the books could also lead them to the historical fiction section of a library or bookshop. On the other hand, the didactic intention of the book would plead for a placement on the shelf with informative books on war. When choosing such a book from the library, the child reader should be aware of the seriousness of the subject matter, so categorisation should be done carefully.