Review: Questions I am Asked About the Holocaust: Young Readers Edition

Questions I am Asked About the Holocaust: Young Readers Edition

by Hédi Fried; translated from the Swedish by Alice E. Olsson, illustrated by Laila Ekboir

Scribble Books, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Heather J. Matthews

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Written by survivor Hédi Fried, and adapted for young audiences from the 2017 original edition, this book is a collection of questions which Hédi is frequently asked when lecturing at schools. Early in the book, Hédi writes “One of the lessons from the Holocaust is this: never get used to injustice.” This idea sets the tone of much of the book – Hédi’s life story and subsequent answers to questions she is asked surround the idea that it is only with education and proactive efforts that we can both remember the Holocaust while also working to prevent such atrocities from occurring again.

Readers learn that Hédi was nineteen when, on May 17, 1944, she arrived Auschwitz. Alongside her sister, Hédi was sent to three different labor camps over the next year of their lives. However, the book covers events from before 1944 and events after Hédi’s liberation in 1945. Addressing topics widely varying from blood libel to hot chocolate, Hédi takes readers through the Holocaust in the form of a mind map, answering questions which range from historical (like “Why did Hitler hate the Jews?”) to the personal (like “Did you dream at night?”).

A section in the end of the book, titled “Further reading” includes a map of Hédi’s forced relocation and imprisonment locations, as well as her new home of Stockholm, Sweden. Following afterward is a timeline from 1918 to 1945, a glossary, “reflections on identity and society,” definitions and questions on the idea of bystanders and upstanders, questions for a reading group, a section titled “Context of Jewish identity in Europe at the time,” a section titled “Historical context of the Holocaust,” a recipe for Swedish hot cocoa, a biography of Hédi , and a list of organizations and resources for more information. Art by Laila Ekbolr rounds out the book in both whole page and page spread art in shades of purple, gray and green.

When comparing the young reader’s edition to the original edition, one notices that the chapter titles match in name, and the books share an approximate length in page numbers. While I have not read the original edition in its entirety, I also know that the original version also includes resources in the peritext as does the young reader’s edition, including discussion questions for readers. I am not quite sure how much a young reader’s edition should vary from an original edition intended for an adult audience, but the significant overlap between these two editions is notable.

Ultimately, this middle grade chapter book suffers from a lack of a narrative arc. Hédi’s questions are seemingly unorganized and jump from pre, during and post Holocaust ideas. I would liken this book more to a sort of browsable nonfiction text – a reader can pick up the book, flip to any one chapter, read it and make absolute sense of it apropos of no other information, and then put the book down and move on. This lack of cohesion does not affect the book’s literary merit or Jewish content, but it may affect how the intended audience approaches the book; that is, I am not sure that the average middle grade reader would find the book appealing. There is, of course, a huge amount of Jewish representation throughout the book, and that representation is integral to each aspect of Hédi’s life and life story. However, I again come back to thinking about the average reader – I am not sure that non-Jewish readers will find the text relatable, and while they will likely understand conceptually what the book is about, unless they have met or listened to a survivor, it is likely that the book won’t have appeal, nor will the book increase the reader’s understanding of the Jewish experience either in historical or contemporary lenses. 

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Reviewer Heather J. Matthews, PhD, is an assistant professor at Salisbury University. Her specialization is in children’s and young adult literature. She is specifically interested in diverse representation within children’s literature.