Yesterday, a glorious spring day here in Brissie, I went to the Brisbane Writer's Festival to listen to Morris Gleitzman talk about his holocaust trilogy, Once, Then and Now. Technically it was aimed at early teenagers but my sister and I went along anyway because we love him. What is any Aussie childhood without a Morris Gleitzman book? My personal favourite was Two Weeks With The Queen. He has that rare talent of being hilariously witty and utterly heartbreaking at the same time.
Of the Once, Then, Now trilogy I have only read Once. I will read the others, I just feel I have to mentally prepare myself, because in typical Elise style, I cry like a trooper. So Once tells the story of Felix, a 10 year old Polish Jew living in an orphanage during WWII. It is written from his perspective and is subsequently a very innocent and often optimistic view of the world at that time. During his talk Morris Gleitzman discussed his inspiration for the novels, his thought processes, some background about Polish Jews during WWII and why he chose to tackle such a dark and depressing subject matter in a novel for children.
Here is what he says on his website (very similar to his talk):
The story of Once came from my imagination.
From 1939 until 1945 the world was at war, and the leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, tried to destroy the Jewish people in Europe. His followers, the Nazis, and those who supported them, murdered six million Jews including one and a half million children. They also killed a lot of other people, many of whom offered shelter to the Jews. We call this time of killing the Holocaust.
My grandfather was a Jew from Krakow in Poland. He left there long before that time, but his extended family didn’t and most of them perished.
Ten years ago I read a book about Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jewish doctor and children’s author who devoted his life to caring for young people. Over many years he helped run an orphanage for two hundred Jewish children. In 1942, when the Nazis murdered these orphans, Janusz Korczak was offered his freedom but chose to die with the children rather than abandon them.
Janusz Korczak became my hero. His story sowed a seed in my imagination.I think that through these books Morris Gleitzman is allowing the younger generation to learn of the horrors of their recent history, but at the same time makes it readily accessible and enjoyable which is vital for a young audience.
It was a joy to listen to him!! Was Morris Gleitzman a part of you childhood? Did you have a particular favourite?