CHILDREN’S author Morris Gleitzman – writer of the Holocaust-themed series Once, has been announced as the keynote speaker for Sydney’s 2017 Yom Hashoah commemorations, in conversation with Dr Avril Alba.
The theme for this year’s events, presented by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, is “Children and the Holocaust”.
Gleitzman told The AJN, “It’s both sobering and exciting to watch how stories, particularly stories with their roots in truth, can be life-changing things for young readers”.
“This writing project I began 13 years ago has turned into certainly the biggest and most challenging, but also the most rewarding, of my career,” he said.
“Even though I was going to try to do something that I knew was very risky [for a children’s author], I knew from talking with thousands of young readers, that outside of Jewish communities there was very little knowledge of the Holocaust, and that seemed to me to be a terrible shame.
“I also realised, because I’m writing for a core readership of eight to 14 – a very exciting and crucial time of life when we are really starting to map out our own thoughts and feelings – that fiction has a great opportunity not to try and preach or prescribe any view of the world, but to show the full range of human experience.
“That in an environment dominated by the worst we’re capable of, there were countless instances of people demonstrating the best.”
The Once series explores the power of friendship through two main characters, a 10-year-old Jewish boy called Felix and a six-year-old Polish girl called Zelda.
“I thought it would just be a single book, but there was something about the experience of the research, and of developing a relationship with the central characters, that became something quite special in my writing experience, and in my life,” Gleitzman said.
“I’m currently close to finishing the sixth book in the series, and I’ve decided there will be seven in total.
“Through all of the terrible, confronting and sometimes horrific incidents that Felix encounters, by encountering them through his eyes and perceptions, allowed me a valve to control the degree to which the events would be confronting.”
Gleitzman had a Jewish grandfather whose extended family in Poland, he believes, all perished in the Holocaust.
“As a semi-outsider, to be invited to be a part of such important and sacred evenings in the annual calendar of the Jewish community is a huge honour and something I feel very proud to do.”
The Yom Hashoah commemorations are on April 23 at Clancy Auditorium (University of NSW) and on April 24 at Masada College. Both begin at 7.30pm. Inquiries: (02) 9360 1600.