Holocaust Remembrance Week began yesterday, and I am grateful to have a graphic novel like Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust, written by Loïc Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and colored by Greg Salsedo, to mark it. Remarkably, Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust manages to present many of the aspects of this horrific period in the history of humanity in subtle but powerful ways while at the same time focusing on aspects that make this a story that certain children as young as second or third grade can read and begin to understand, while also framing it in a way that gives it power in the present. Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust is ultimately a hopeful story that, told through the eyes of a child, weighs the cruelty and persecution of the Nazis with the bravery and generosity those who resisted.
Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust begins in the present day. Unable to sleep, Elsa finds her grandmother, Dounia Cohen, alone, looking through old papers and pictures. Concerned that her grandmother is unable to sleep because of a nightmare, Elsa prods her to talk about what has upset her. Dounia begins her story talking about the handsome Isaac that she and her best friend Catherine would walk to school with. This happy beginning quickly shifts as Dounia's father explains that they will all be wearing yellow stars on their clothes because, as her father who was just at a big meeting explains, "Some people suggested that we become a family of sheriffs." Her mother's sad expression as she stitches is not lost on Dounia.
The next day at school she is ostracized and criticized, a Jewish classmate angrily telling her that she is not wearing a sheriff's star but a Star of David. Not long after, a nighttime raid takes Dounia's parents from her. From her hiding place, one that she becomes trapped in, Dounia listens and worries. She is rescued by the Péricards, neighbors who take her in and find a way to get her out of Paris, but betrayal by a neighbor forces Madame Péricard to flee with Dounia to a farm in the countryside. Their time on the farm, posing as mother and daughter, begins with shock, sadness and silence, but they eventually begin to recover, finding comfort in each other.
When they return to Paris, the Péricards continue to care for Dounia while also looking for her parents, trying to protect her from the horrors of the Nazis. Yet another powerful moment occurs when the Péricards finally take Dounia with them to a hotel where the walls are covered with photographs of the survivors from the camps. Dounia does not know what a camp is and no one will explain it to her. One of the masterful aspects of Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust is that the narrator is telling the story form the perspective of a child, but she herself is no longer a child. She can present the events from her limited perspective, but also explain events from her adult perspective. Of the fact that no one at the hotel will explain the camps to her, she says, "They weren't being mean. They wanted to protect me. With my little girl's eyes, I could see it was something unbelievably cruel." This distancing and describing is what makes Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust an ideal introduction to the Holocaust for young readers.
Dounia is reunited with her mother, after being warned that she is very, very tired and, in a moment of horror, Dounia doesn't recognize her. Again, Dauvillier, Lizano and Salsedo present a quietly powerful scene. Dounia's mother is wearing the striped uniform of the concentration camps, her hair shorn, her figure emaciated, conveying the brutality of the camps without having to describe it in detail. The final pages of Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust reveal a moving moment between Dounia and her son in the present day. In an echo of young Dounia's words as she stood looking at pictures of concentration camp survivors, her son tells her that it took him a while, but he understands why she chose not to tell him her story when he was growing up. He realizes that she wanted to protect him and, while he learned to respect her silence, he is both happy and proud that she chose to tell her story to Elsa. Hopefully this ending will help readers understand that there is more to survival than living through the Holocaust. Telling, or not telling, the story of one's experience is part of surviving.
The afterword of Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust was written by Helen Kauffmann, the president of AJPN, which is an organization dedicated to collecting stories of rescue and solidarity during the World War II Nazi occupation of France. Kaufmann provides some specific historical information to help readers put the story into context, letting them know that, while 11,400 French children were murdered during the Second World War, "like Dounia, eighty-four percent of the Jewish children living in France before the Holocaust were saved. They owe their survival to their loved ones and friends, to Jewish organizations, to the Resistance networks, and to all those who rejected racism and hatred of those who are different."
Source: Review Copy
*As an interesting side note, Elizabeth Wein, author of the stunning YA book set during WWII, Code Name Verity, reviewed Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust in the New York Times Book Review on April 4, 2014.