Friday 14 October 2011

Can a Holocaust Novel Have an Upbeat Ending?

I have to admit that I worried with this one about the warning one of my MA tutors gave me about this project: “It could get too grisly.”
I always argue that endings in teen and YA novels should be upbeat with hope though don’t need to be too neat and tidy and certainly don’t have to be “happy ever after”.  I’ve all but finished the Hani strand. One more chapter to go. I’ve surprised myself by making it much more upbeat than I’d ever expected. The Special Class can now be taught in the open. Two main characters have returned safely – one from a labour camp and one from “helping the Americans with their enquiries” – and the main character in this bit, Hani, has obtained a scholarship to study to become a special needs teacher. Fortunately her parents will cover her living expenses.
It is all tempered a little by the fact that they have lost the war, that they know that something sinister has happened that has been hidden by the war and they do not know where Clara Lehrs is. Doctor Kühn spells it out for them.
“There is of course some way to go,” said Doctor Kühn, as he poured the wine. “It will be a quite a long time before we can get good supplies of food and fuel. We have lost the war and there will always be something a little uncomfortable about that.” His face suddenly became very serious. “There were some things very wrong about this war and what it was hiding. And we have to face that.”
I’ve chosen not to disclose the fate of Clara Lehrs within the book (exterminated in Treblinka, September 1942). Enlightened readers will probably guess and I shall admit it in the appendices.
Will this bring that balance? I observe a similar balance in Kinder / survivor reports. It is terrible that they had to leave their families like that. Some were actually treated very badly here. Many never saw their parents again. But many were treated with great kindness and it is certainly impressive that people managed to find the £50 sponsor money (equivalent of about £3600 today) and pay for the further upkeep of the children.     

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