Nazi Germany, Bookclub, and Fighting for Community Health
NOTE: This post was written during the COVID lockdown
A few winters ago we started a kids book club. In my head it ticked a number of boxes, and truthfully it started with a need I felt my own kids had. It’s so important to have time to interact socially with kids your own age, but even more than that, it’s important to learn how valuable sharing perspectives and differing points of view can be. Little did I know how badly I needed to read these books to remember the role of community in my life and work.
Our first few books were great fun to read and led my kids to research such things as the Native American population of upper New York in the early 1800’s (Sign of the Beaver) and to think about how even though kids are small and less experienced, they can still make a difference in their world (Hoot).
I am extremely partial to children’s literature. Honestly, I read more of this genre than almost any other with the exception of wellness non-fiction. So, I’ve been enjoying myself immensely, all in the name of being prepared to help lead discussion on book club days.
Most adults believe that children’s literature is for kids- the misunderstanding leading to the belief that books in this genre deal with children’s issues in a childish manner. I know I had that bias once. The truth couldn’t be more different. In fact, children’s literature, when it is done well, encourages the reader to process some of the most profound lessons in humanity. It seems to me that books for kids are eager to discuss the hard things, while most that are aimed at adults are ironically “dumbed” down… aimed at tantalizing and sensationalizing at the cost of intellectualizing.
Number the Stars
Last month, I chose Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. As I sat down to read it I began to grow uneasy. I never read this one in my English classes as a kid, I only had a vague understanding that it was about the holocaust. We are living through difficult times here in the United States right now and my son in particular has felt the travel restrictions and loss of freedoms very deeply. It has been a constant effort to keep him focused on the positive things we have rather than dwelling on the aspects of our lives that feed his anxiety, stress and sadness.
Number the Stars tells the story of two families in Denmark just after Nazi occupation in 1940. One family is Jewish. The families are united by the friendship between their two small girls. Just after the Nazi’s move in certain stores in their neighborhood are singled out for closure, a curfew is instated. I worried as I read that this very obvious similarity with our current situation might be hard for some children, my son included, in the group to see.
Soon, there were soldiers on the street corner and the citizens of Denmark were controlled in nearly every aspect of their lives. Number the Stars is not the story of one particular figure in history, but is instead the blending of many stories together to tell the truth about what happened. So, while the details are fictional, the story as a whole is true. The Jewish families feared they would be threatened and soon that came to pass in 1943. Throughout the rest of the book we watch as one family hides, transports and eventually smuggles their Jewish friends out of the country.
The Nazi’s would occupy Denmark for 5 years, taking control of the newspapers, rail system, government, schools and hospitals. The Rabbi in Copenhagen was warned that the Jews were to be taken and somehow within weeks the entire Jewish community of Denmark (nearly 7000 people) were smuggled over the sea and into Sweden!
I felt a relief (for the kids reading) and a personal conviction as I read to the end of the book. Here was the real story. It wasn’t about the evil that was singling people out to persecute and kill. This story was about neighbors and community. Denmark stood up… maybe not as one, but enough people stood together to say NO. They risked their lives, their freedom and their comfort so that their neighbors were safe… and they continued to care for empty homes and apartments for two more years until their neighbors could return.
When I first met my husband I was incredibly uninterested in politics. I lived my life, followed the law and did what was right. Carson grew up in a family that was politically focused. He brought an awareness of what was being done in the halls of our government to our home. For some time now I have felt that these people who seek to govern are completely disconnected from the real world and real people, but things have gone so far now that I fear they are nothing more than a ruling class seeking to exert their power and control on the rest of the country.
It is scary for any of us, regardless of our age, to be aware of the processes… to be aware of our laws and our constitution and watch as so much of it is being ignored. The more we focus on those “in power” the more we feel out of control.
The truth is this- nothing is solved at the national level….. the more we see that group of people as having “control” over the nation, the more power we voluntarily give them. Problems aren’t solved from the top down. They are solved from the bottom up. They are solved by neighbor helping neighbor…. they are solved by communities.
Worth Not Repeating!
Nazi Germany is one of the biggest evils of our time. One I fear we must be more determined in our desires than we are currently demonstrating not to repeat. Denmark didn’t solve its problems by fighting against the power that had taken it over… it didn’t protect its people by being angry and debating its rulers. It fought the evil by standing up by the thousands, quietly doing what was right neighbor to neighbor. The real battle was won by community.
Our media encourages us to watch the news, feel helpless and whine about things that are out of control. Our culture has spent a good deal of capital telling people that they are helpless…. helpless to be healthy, helpless to solve hunger, helpless to find peace… all because they put global issues in front of us instead of community level issues. If you see a global issue, don’t get overwhelmed by it…. find a way to take a bite out of the problem in your own community. It is the ONLY way we will make change… in the end, the only thing you can control is yourself- not Congress, not the president, not the U.N.- just you. You can make a difference right around you… stop believing you are helpless and fight.
What Community Problems Can You Solve?
Here in my community, I choose to model empowerment and education instead of fear and dependence. One of my big frustrations is with how we address food insecurity. We hand out processed food that ensures that the family who fell on hard times must soon also spread their dollar to pay for the medical care that results from poor nutrition. This system of feeding people is right hearted and wrong headed… failing to look long term in the rush to fill bellies with “something”.
I thought for a few years that we would grow extra garden produce and give it to the food banks… until I found out that these facilities often don’t have refrigeration and can’t handle fresh produce. The solution is to put the control over access to fresh food from the garden to the community member who needs a hand up. Allowing them to gather just what they need as often as they eat.
As you may know, I am also passionate about growing our food and medicine together. Eating functional food and having access to simple remedies that keep people healthy is the fastest path to true self-sufficiency. We have lost connection to the skills needed to do these things and dis-empowered people to believe that they are not capable of caring for their bodies and being healthy.
Will You Join Me?
In the afterword, Lois Lowry shared some of her research for Number the Stars. She found a number of letters and pictures detailing people who were in the Demark Resistance, and organization of people who came together to smuggle their neighbors to safety and subvert the agenda of the Nazis. One of them was a young man, named Kim Malthe-Bruun, who was eventually captured and executed for his work. I couldn't resist sharing this excerpt from a letter her wrote to his family from prison:
“…and I want you all to remember — that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of — something he can work and fight for.”
I am turning off the t.v., turning away from the evil in Washington, D.C.. I am turning to the people in my community and giving then ALL my attention and energy. We just had our first meeting of like-minded individuals who will provide helping hands, mentorship, experience and more in this mission. I am so excited for what we can accomplish in our little circle... and how it can impact the world in due time.
It is said, that what you feed wins…. what are going to feed? What will you stand and fight for?