Sunday, April 19, 2009
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
— Elie Wiesel
Today marks the beginning of the Days of Remembrance, when the US commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. This year’s theme is Never Again: What You Do Matters.
Did you know that the word genocide did not exist before 1944? Raphael Lemkin formed the word to describe the Nazi policy of extermination of the Jews and other targeted groups. Genocide was formed by combining geno (Greek for race or tribe) and cide (from Latin for killing). For Lemkin, genocide meant "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves." In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which made genocide an international crime. In the Convention, genocide is defined as:
any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
For more info on the Days of Remembrance and genocide, visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Although I finished the following book earlier in the month, I thought it appropriate for today’s post.
The Book Thief
“I am haunted by humans.” -Death
Why am I quoting Death? Because he is the narrator of The Book Thief. And I must say, he does a damn good job of narrating.
Liesel Meminger is being sent to foster care when Death first encounters her. In the course of her journey young Liesel steals a book. Later, as a foster child living with Rosa and Hans Hubermann, Liesel steals her second book from a pile of burning books (it’s Nazi Germany…do I need to say more?). From there, she moves on the library of the mayor’s house. Liesel is subtly abetted by her beloved foster father Hans, her best friend Rudy, and even the mayor’s wife. Since life in Molching Germany in the early 1940’s is harsh and scary, books provide Liesel with an escape and a purpose. As the war escalates, Liesel reads to others in bomb shelters, kitchens and basements.
The story of the book thief is told alongside the story of WWII and the Holocaust. However, the book does assume some knowledge of both events, as Death provides more biting asides than he does historical lessons.
At 550 pages, I did find the book a bit long. I think the book could have stood a bit of a heavier hand with the red pencil. Especially since Death is not shy about telling you what’s coming. And it’s also a bit odd that Death never divulges what happened to Liesel’s mom. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious, but still, you’d think he could fill in a few blanks. After all, he has to know.
Still, this is a book worth reading.