Well, the Christmas season is upon us, the season of Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men, and I thought this would be the perfect song to get us started this year. It isn't a WWII song, but it is one of my favorites. Someday at Christmas was originally released in 1967 by Motown Records on Stevie Wonder's Christmas album by the same name. He was only 17 years old at the time. There was a lot of unrest in the country at that time and it that is reflected in the lyrics of this song - protests against the war in Vietnam and deteriorating race relations amid the fight for equality and civil rights. And even though the song ends on a bit of a pessimistic note, it was still listed as one of Billboards Best Bets for Christmas for the week of December 23, 1967. And sadly, almost 50 years later, it still rings true.
Friday, December 2, 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Days later, arriving at a slave labor camp in Germany on March 14th, 1943, Lida's 9th birthday, she and Larissa are forcibly separated from one another, and from this point the story follows only Lida's life in the labor camp.
Told to lie about her age, Lida tells the Nazis she is 13 instead of 9, avoiding what seems to be certain death for the young children. Because they are Ukrainian and not Jews, the children are treated a fraction better. They are put into barracks with a small useless heater, given two thin blankets for sleeping and fed two meals a day consisting of watery coffee and soup, plus a small triangle of bread made mostly from sawdust. The children are also given Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday off. The rest of the time, they work, and soon enough, the Nazis weed out the good workers from the ones unable to meet their needs. The weak workers are sent to the 'hospital' never to be seen again. Luckily for Lida, she lands a job in the laundry for a woman named Inge, where the work is hard, but it is at least warm, since she was barefoot, having lost her shoes pretty early on.
When Inge discovers that Lida can do embroidery, she has her remove the name and initials from clothing sent to her by her soldier husband, and embroider them with hers. Lida does such a great job, the woman can't help but brag to the head of the camp. Lida is immediately transferred to work in a factory, where the small hands of children are ideal for making bombs. By now, the Germans are losing the war and getting desperate, while the Allies are bombing the area constantly. Lida's one goal is to stay alive so she can find her sister Larissa.
Eventually, the war ends, the Americans arrive and Lida is told that if she returns to her home in the Ukraine she will be arrested as a traitor because of the work she did for the Nazis. She finds herself living in displaced persons camps looking for her sister, and accompanied by a boy named Luka. The story ends in 1951on a much needed hopeful note for Lida.
I have to admit, I didn't know that much about the Nazi treatment of Russian and Ukrainian people sent to Germany to be used as slave labor, although I have always know there were slave labor camps, though my own work never really focused on the Eastern Europe. In that respect, Making Bombs for Hitler was a real eye-opener for me.
And it was a difficult story to read. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch pulled no punches in her descriptions of the deplorable conditions and treatment the Nazis doled out to their enemies. The story is told in the first person by Lida, although given her vivid descriptions, her detailed observations and her rather mature language, I felt as though she were recounted her life between 1943 and 1951. That, however, does not take anything away from the immediacy of Lida's life in the labor camp, if anything it makes it all the more poignant.
Lida is a brave, determined character who feelings of guilt about losing her sister as they arrived at the camp really propels everything she does. She never loses her sense of humanity, and proves herself to be a compassionate, caring friend to the other girls. At one point she gives her cross, a family heirloom, to a Jewish girl named Zenia so that the Nazis will not suspect the truth.
Making Bombs for Hitler is actually a sequel to a book called Stolen Child, which I haven't read yet and hope it doesn't matter that I read them out of sequence. I am curious to continue the story of Lida and Larissa.
The Nazis were so cruel and violent in reality and I feel I should warn sensitive readers that their are some graphic descriptions in Making Bombs for Hitler. But it is also a book that should be read, especially, as I said above, I haven't found another book like it. I know there are a number of books that take place in Russia, including Siberia, but none focus of the Nazi treatment of stolen children the way this novel does, making this an important book for young readers to read.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press
I read the 2012 edition of the novel, but a new edition will be available February 28, 2017
Saturday, November 19, 2016
This year M&Ms turn 75 years old. And one of the things I always wondered about them was why, given all the American and British magazines I had to go through for my dissertation that were published during World War II, I never saw an ad for M&M's (and also, why M&M's had an apostrophe).
So when I walked into my local Walgreen's to pick up a prescription and was greeted with a large 75th anniversary display for M&M's, I decided to finally find the answers to my questions.
M&Ms are made by the Mars company, founded by Franklin Clarence Mars (1882-1934). Frank contracted polio when he was young and, although he recovered somewhat, he stayed home with his mother, a woman who loved to bake. To keep Frank busy, she taught him how to make candy.
Eventually he married, had a son, Forrest Mars, and got divorced. Forrest was sent to Canada to live with his mother's parents. Frank was beginning to be successful in the candy business, and founded a company called Mar-O-Bar that made a candy bar by the same name. He didn't see his son Forrest years and by now Forrest was working as a traveling salesman. He was arrested in Chicago for illegally posting ads on buildings, and his father came to bail him out of jail.
While sitting at a soda fountain and talking, Forrest suggested his father make a candy bar that tasted like the malted milk shakes they were drinking and the Milky Way was born. Father and son began working together, and it didn't take long for them to become Mars Inc., and to begin producing Snickers and 3 Musketeers bars.
Frank died suddenly in 1934, while Forrest was in Europe with his wife and son trying to establish Mars Ltd there. While in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, he noticed soldiers eating small pieces of chocolate candy that didn't melt in their hands because they had a hard sugar shell coating. Once World War II began, he remembered those candies from Spain and decided to produce something similar.
In 1939, Forrest met with William Murrie, president of the Hershey Chocolate Company. Forrest wanted Hershey to provide the chocolate for his new candy and agreed to call them M&M's - M for Mars and M for Murrie, and making the apostrophe a possessive one. In 1940, M&M LTD was formed and began to produce their version of little chocolate candy pieces coated in a shell that wouldn't melt.
M&M's may not be included in C-Rations anymore, but they do still support the military in different ways, as you can see in this 2005 ad:
Today, M&M's come in a variety of colors and kinds, represented by 6 lovable spokescandies.
And even though they don't really melt in your mouth and not in your hands anymore, they still taste mighty fine.
FYI: Most of my information Frank and Forrest Mars came from a book called The Mars Family: M&M Mars Candy Makers by Joanne Mattern.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016
And sometimes our many heroes simply go unsung. But in this picture book for older readers, J. Patrick Lewis introduces us to a group of real true-life Navajo heroes of World War II. He begins by giving a little background history. The Navajo had lived for generations in the four corners where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet, calling their land Dinétah. But in 1864, they were removed from their homes there by the United States government, and marched 350 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Forever known as "The Long Walk" by the Navajo, it cost many Navajo their lives. It was four years before they were allowed to return to their tribal land, to their Dinétah.
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Flash forward to December 7, 1941 and the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States to finally enter the Second World War. As with any war, there was a need for communication that couldn't be intercepted and deciphered by the enemy. The Germans had their enigma machine, but what code could the Americans use that the Japanese couldn't figure out.
The Navajo language, that language that the government-run Indian schools tried so hard to eliminate, proved to be the perfect code. It was "unique, enormously difficult, and unwritten" the "ultimate unbreakable wartime code."
The irony that "suddenly, bilingual Navajos [have] become valuable" isn't lost in Lewis' account of the history of these code talkers. He writes "Recruited into the military that once sought to destroy their ancestors, the 'code talkers' were born."
Lewis used spare, but lyrical text throughout this picture book history, relying on artist Gary Kelly's incredible pastel illustrations. Kelly chose a fitting palette of dark earth tones to create both the images from the history of the Navajos and the scenes of war.
This is a beautifully done book by the same author and illustrator who did And the Soldiers Sang, about the WWI Christmas Eve truce between the Germans and British on the Western Front in 1914, and Harlem Hellfighters, introducing us to the brave and talented unsung heroes of the 15thNew York National Guard, which was later federalized as the 369th Infantry Regiment, soldier that the Germans dubbed the Harlem Hellfighters "because of their tenacity."
The Navajo Code Talkers could prove to be a useful addition to a unit on WWII, but it does have one major drawback. The story is told so generally that none of the original 29 code talkers are mentioned by name, making the overall impact of this book not quite as powerful as it could have been. Following the pattern of singling out one individual to give the story a deeper, more personal focus that was used in the other two collaborations would made this a more relatable story. Still, it is important nevertheless.
There is some Back Matter for anyone interested in more information about the real code talkers, including Endnotes, Artist's Notes, and a Selected Bibliography.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
If you are curious to know who the Navajo Code Talkers were, here is a list compiled and posted by the former student of Window Rock High School in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Be sure to visit their website for more information.
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