Should You Use the Classic Texts?

What about the Holocaust standards: books like Number the Stars, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Night? Do they fit into the new narrative? Should you use them?

Our advice is No.  Here’s why.

Fiction

Many of the books that are commonly used to teach the Holocaust are works of fiction:  books like Number the Stars, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and The Book Thief. Although these are all well written books, the educators at Yad Vashem advocate using true stories rather than fiction. The problem with fiction is that it is hard to know which parts of it are based on truth and which are exaggerated or made up for dramatic effect. This makes these stories too easy to dismiss. There are so many well-written true stories available that there is no reason to use fiction.

The Diary of Anne Frank

One of the most commonly read true stories about the Holocaust is The Diary of Anne Frank. This story can teach a lot about what life was like for children in hiding. Anne is similar to middle schoolers everywhere, in her hopes, dreams, and fears. However, for the length of the book, this story does not teach as many aspects of the Holocaust as some of the other books about children in hiding available from Yad Vashem. The fact that Anne does not survive also makes this story more traumatic than other stories. Consider other options, such as The Daughter We Had Always Wanted or I Wanted to Fly like a Butterfly, to teach about children in hiding in place of Anne’s diary. If you do choose to use the diary, we recommend discussing how it ends with your students before you start reading.

Night  and Maus

Other than Anne Frank, the most famous books about the Holocaust are probably Elie Wiesel’s Night and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. These are very well written books that tell true stories. They are also very dark and difficult. In many ways, these books lay bare the PTSD of both the survivors and their children. As such, they can be a fascinating study. As such, however, they are traumatic and require a nuanced understanding of the Holocaust prior to reading. The earliest we would use these is in high school, and even in high school, you should use discretion. These books are really best for college students and adults with some background in the subject.