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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beyond Courage, written by Doreen Rappaport. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $27.00 ages 13 and up

"For six years, I have lived with the people you will meet in this book. I've gotten to know most of them through the words and photographs they left behind. I have had the privilege of speaking directly with survivors, and I have even had the good fortune of meeting a few in person. All are enshrined in my heart."

Doreen Rappaport has chosen for her newest book to tell stories  of Jewish resistance during WWII. Few are well-known, and her research has taken six years to complete. As she says in her introduction she felt blessed to spend the time it took to learn these stories and to be able to share them in this thoughtful, heartbreaking book.

It's a big topic to choose to share. There were times when I had to stop and take a breather from the atrocities that were inflicted on so many while Hitler and the Nazis held sway over what happened during their march through Europe. The author takes small bits of everything she learned and presents them with integrity in trying to help her readers understand the bravery that so many displayed while refusing to give in to their enemies. She tells stories of individuals and the parts they played in resisting the onslaught of murder and mayhem.

The first section deals with the years that led to the start of the war, when Hitler gained the power to rule with his iron fist. In the second section she shares the stories of brave Jews who got children to safety in various parts of Europe. She talks about happened in the ghettos as people fought to keep their friends and families from being transported and murdered in concentration camps. She includes the Warsaw ghetto, the escapes from the Vilna ghetto and the secret magazines and pictures that were written and drawn by the children at Theresienstadt. Each showed the strength and hope that refused to die in the fight against the Nazis, despite unbridled cruelty and unkept promises.

Few of their stories have been told. She lets her readers know that many brave men and women fought for their freedom and their rights in a multitude of ways. Many memorable stories are included in and each holds some small victory for those who chose to resist.

The book includes archival photographs and maps which are helpful in following the stories told. Be sure to go to Ms. Rappaport's website to hear conversations with survivors and to find links to other resources.  Extensive back matter is useful, including a timeline that dates from 1933 until the war ended in 1945. Highly informative and readable, this is a book filled with stories you will not soon forget.

It is an outstanding piece of nonfiction and should find a permanent place in many classrooms and libraries. It is the best we have to offer, and we are lucky to be able to share it. Many people chose to fight rather than succumb, to maintain hope in a hopeless time. We now know some of them.    

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