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Hate Is Not That Complicated

On the eve of Yom HaShoah, an American Jew writes about his family’s fate in the Holocaust.

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Book Review: Keeping My Hope


Several moments ago I read a profound, illustrated narrative that captures Holocaust history with fresh eyes and emotion. The story's depth and the subject matter's intensity are especially impressive because this 170-page graphic novel was entirely penned—word and drawing—by a Maryland middle schooler, Korean-American Christopher Huh. Huh sent Jews for Jesus a copy of his book. It was my privilege to read and review it here.

Huh's personal investigation into the world of eastern European Jewish life proves powerful and poignant. His entry point into the subject: Huh was outraged that his classmates dismissed their Holocaust learning with as little interest as the next tedious topic. He was shaken. Pooling his creative writing prowess and much dedicated research, the then seventh grader undertook Keeping My Hope.

In Christopher Huh's work, Ari, a wise, old and living survivor of Auschwitz retells his history to an eager granddaughter, a listener with whom the reader easily identifies. Huh delicately interlaces scenarios where the reader vicariously feels Ari's pain and the severity of his escapades. They are laid against a stark, contemporary setting. For example, Huh juxtaposes a family barbeque setting with Ari and his captive audience-of-one revisiting his tales of famishment. Often aromas and essences of what officers ate waft in toward the starving captives of Ari's past. This is the kind of detail and suffering few writers as young as Huh could be expected to detail. As a young teenager, he shows all the potential of an excellent storyteller. Most importantly, he understands that his book's subject matter has broad application, extending beyond the plight of one particular people group.

Not unlike our author, Ari's innocence as a young boy is captivating and challenging throughout Keeping My Hope. Ari is selfless, stubborn, and sacrificial. We see his pure heartedness against a backdrop of others' hatred and prejudice. We journey with him through his town's descent from home sweet home into a hell. Eventually Ari is plucked from it, only to be pushed through Auschwitz's jaws. The reader is perpetually drawn along with Ari on this journey from fear to freedom.

If I have one criticism of the piece, it would be the same to my eighth grade self, who likewise wrote Holocaust-based fiction: Auschwitz is obvious. There were hundreds of camps, and any one of them could have been picked as the setting. Additionally, an Auschwitz survivor is much less realistic than one from another camp. But perhaps that is part of the beauty of the naïveté of being thirteen and of keeping up hope, of using as iconic a site as possible. I highly recommend this gripping graphic novel to those of all ages who are open to both heartbreak and healing, all at the hands of an American teenager who truly empathized with the suffering of a people not his own.

To find out more about Christopher, his graphic novel, and where to purchase it, please visit keepingmyhope.com.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - Movie Review

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Movie Review
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
PG-13
-reviewed by Matt Sieger

April 7–14 marks Holocaust Remembrance Week in the United States. Among the many compelling films one could view to remember the victims of the Shoah, I would like to recommend the simple yet overpowering movie, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, based on the young adult novel by John Boyne.

Some critics maintain that the book and the movie trivialize the Holocaust. But I find myself in agreement with the "thumbs up" for this film from the late Roger Ebert, the "critic for the common man," as The New York Times referred to him in its obituary last week. As the obituary noted, "His credo in judging a film's value was a simple one: 'Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie to you.'"

The boy in the striped pajamas is Shmuel, an eight-year-old Jewish child in a concentration camp. He is befriended by Bruno, a German boy of the same age whose father is a Nazi official in charge of the camp. They meet on opposite sides of the barbed wire. Neither of them understands what is going on at the camp. Even Bruno's mother does not know, but when she finds out, it causes great tension in their previously well-ordered family.

Through the children's innocence, some of the awful ironies of the situation are underlined. Bruno, instructed by a tutor, leads an isolated life in his family's big house in the country. When he sees other children in the camp, he tells Shmuel "it isn't fair" that he has all those friends. Bruno thinks the numbers on Shmuel's "pajamas" must be part of a game they play.

As Bruno begins to sense what is really going on behind the barbed wire, he wonders if his father is "a good man." But he is reassured after he secretly watches a propaganda film his father is showing the other Nazi officers about the entertainment and cultural activities the prisoners supposedly enjoy in the camp.

Yes, as critics note, some of the plot is contrived. But this is fiction. Don't most novelists stretch plot elements to achieve dramatic effect? The setting and the facts are real. Some say the story is too simplistic in contrasting good and evil. But, until the heart-stopping ending (which is seen through the eyes of Bruno's parents), everything is viewed through the eyes of the children. So of course they see things in black-and-white categories.

The film was produced by David Heyman, best known for the Harry Potter films. Heyman's father is Jewish. Aware that the film is small in scope in that it deals with one family's experience, Heyman hoped the movie would cause viewers to explore the Holocaust more in depth.

The ending of the film is mind-blowing. Director Mark Herman's handling of it, as Ebert deftly describes, "gathers all of the film's tightly wound tensions and savagely uncoils them. It is not what happens to the boy, which I will not tell you. It is—all that happens. All of it, before and after."

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