Simple things we didn’t have.
Simple things once taken for granted.
Simple things brought great risks.
Zlatka, page 258, “Paper Hearts” by Meg Wiviott
A book, written in poetry, just broke my heart. I closed it, felt a heaviness clutch my soul and wondered at how the human spirit can shine through the very worst of times..
I first heard of “Paper Hearts” through an interview of Meg Wiviott on El Space – The Blog of L. Marie. As with many of L. Marie’s posts, an author and book captured my attention. Based on a true story, “Paper Hearts” has been sitting on my book pile for many months – until the other day. I don’t know if it was the sad passing of Elie Wiesel, or maybe the terrors in the world right now and the unsettling political rhetoric, but, something compelled me to pick this book up and read it – and it is yet another book of this summer that I could not put down.
Told alternately in the voices of Zlatka and Fania, we follow each girl from the Pruzany and Bialystok Ghettos, into packed cattle cars to concentration camps. Auschwitz. Ravensbrück. The Malchow armament factory. Forced marches. Starvation. Fear. Atrocities. Disease. Death.
In the midst of all the despair, Zlatka does the unthinkable. She makes a small, heart shaped book, sewn together with a thread here, another one there, crafting pages that fold inward. Friends secretly pass the heart shaped pages to each other, writing birthday sentiments. Zlatka’s small creation becomes a book of birthday wishes for Fania’s twentieth birthday. Any one of these things, if discovered, would be reason for execution. The little heart book unfolds to greetings, such as
“When you get old, put your glasses on your nose, take this album in your hand and read my signature again, My love Fani, Mina.”
Zlatka’s action was a remarkable act of sacrifice for a friend, as it was for each of the girls who wrote a birthday greeting to Fania. Forbidden acts punishable by death. Fania is deeply touched by her friends’ acts of caring, kindness, and creativity and doubly surprised by the birthday cake Zlatka makes, using rations of moistened bread formed into the shape of a cake. Fania carries this little book with her, also an act of defiance, keeping it hidden, close to her heart, under her flimsy dress.
“Paper Hearts” is a moving novel, based on a true story of courage in unthinkable, inhumane conditions in German concentration camp during World War II. Reading it during in real-time, when rounding up people because of their religion, ancestry, and any number of reasons, brought to me a heightened feeling concern.
While I enjoy poetry, I will confess that I wasn’t sure how reading “Paper Hearts” in poetic form would feel. I can tell you that it feels quite comfortable and does not distract from the prose at all. I can also tell you that each and every poem, chapters in “Paper Hearts”, stand on their own. Simple Things, quoted at the beginning of this post, is an example. This is a young adult book, but, it is a book for adults as well. I encourage you to read it, perhaps share it with a young person in your life, and never forget.
“Paper Hearts” comes with an extensive glossary and bibliography.
The real Zlatka’s testimony can be found here. Click on Solidarity.
The image above is Fania’s real birthday book, which is on display at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial and Centre. More information can be found here and here .
Image is from Simon & Schuster Canada here
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