Children With a Star by Debórah Dwork

Subtitled “Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe”, Dwork’s book focuses on the plight of Jewish children as they transitioned from the world they knew (at home with their family) to life in hiding, transit camps, concentration camps, and death camps. Using oral histories, archives, and those diaries and letters left behind, this book is often referenced as the first time the history of children during the Nazi’s reign of terror was presented. It is considered a pioneering study; difficult to believe considering it was first published in 1993.

My first reaction upon finishing this book was how much of it I already knew. Not because I’m a great scholar of the Holocaust, but because Dwork presented a large chunk of the book’s information in other class I took by her. Many of the children, whose lives were meant to be representative of the lives of Jewish children living under the Third Reich, were familiar to me because I heard their stories during class.

That said, I still learned quite a bit from this book. For example, I found the role of gender in the preferences of foster families willing to take Jewish children into their homes, who attempted to rescue children and their recognition after the war, and it eventually became the topic of my essay about the book. The need to replicate normal life in the form of education and the ability to play as well as the loss of an old identity and the formation of a new identity were all interesting threads to draw out from the narrative.

“These resistance activities were consigned to the world of the private and personal, and the (predominantly) women who dedicated themselves to such rescue efforts were not the subject of the historians’ curiosity. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the history of women who took on what was considered to be men’s work, both legal and underground, such as factory positions, the Maquis [guerrilla resistance], or the clandestine press, has a place in recorded history. In other words, when women moved into ‘society,’ into the world of men, they became legitimate subjects of scholarship. Those who remained within the traditional domain of women and devoted themselves to succor, save, and sustain others, especially children, were overlooked, even though the protection and defense of their young charges imperiled their own lives. Danger, dedication to a humanitarian cause, and steadfast resistance to the Nazi program clearly were not, by themselves, the criteria for publicly acclaimed or analytically researched heroism.” (pg. 254-255)

Although I was concerned about my ability to read an entire book in one week, I found this to be a well written book that went surprisingly quick for a scholarly text. Those knowing little about the Holocaust may still want to start with Dwork’s other book Holocaust: A History as this book is not an introduction to how, why, or what. Rather, it is an introduction into how Jewish children coped with starvation, disease, and confusion about what their futures entailed, and therefore is specific in nature.

Books Mentioned:

  • Dwork, Debórah. Children With a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991. Print. 354 pgs. ISBN: 0300054475. Source: Purchased.
  • Dwork, Debórah and Robert Jan Van Pelt. Holocaust: A History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. Print. 464 pgs. ISBN: 0393325245. Source: Purchased.
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