Millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Some of their tragic stories are captured in published books and videos while a tremendous amount of information remains hidden in archives and in people’s homes around the world.
Authors of children’s books have focused their attention on telling the stories of individuals. Survivors have written about their particular stories while historians and interested parties have culled information from the archives and from individual’s words. Few have written about the vibrant European Jewish neighborhoods that once flourished and were instantly destroyed during the Holocaust.
- Where were these Pre World War II Jewish communities located?
- Where did the Jews congregate?
Andrea Strongwater, a gifted American artist, uses her talents to address these questions. She paints pictures of the synagogues that were destroyed by the Nazis. After years of researching these lost European Jewish communities of Europe, she is committed to bringing their stories to life. In many instances, the only thing that marks the spot of the lost community is a plaque.
Andrea is determined to create a 5-book series that will capture the essence of the synagogues that were destroyed during Kristallnacht and World War II.
Her first book, Where We Once Gathered: Lost Synagogues of Europe (Eifrig Publishing, 2012) received a silver award from Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and was a finalist for Forward Reviews Book of the Year. She designed this book for everyone- children and adults. This blog will focus on this extraordinary picture book.
The cheery yellow book cover disguises the serious nature of the book. A stunning painting of the 19th century Luxembourg Synagogue showcases one of the twenty synagogues detailed inside. Stephen M. Goldman, executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Center, Zekelman Family Campus in Detroit provides an introduction. He poignantly states that the synagogues “are lost only if we forget.”
Each synagogue is formatted on two pages. All of the featured synagogues include an exterior painting and a brief historical overview of the community and synagogue. Some of the known facts regarding the synagogue’s final days are also included. A few interior designs can also be seen.
Children and adults will be fascinated by the structures. In many instances, the surrounding community influenced the synagogue’s architectural design. Ornate detailing brings readers back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Anyone unfamiliar with European geography can find the locations of the synagogues on a map near the front of the book. This is a useful tool that highlights the diversity of European Jewry.
Where We Once Gathered is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in European Jewish life prior to World War II. The pictures are engaging and draw readers into the historical arena. While the colorful paintings and narrative only tell part of the story, children will naturally start to ask questions. History will be viewed in a more open matter that is not dependent on a litany of facts.
Readers who are eager to learn more will be left shorthanded. The book does not provide any leads to additional resources. With sufficient funding, Andrea plans to complete the rest of the series as soon as possible. Hopefully, other books will follow that will fill in the gaps.
By taking the time to look through Where We Once Gathered: Lost Synagogues of Europe, the twenty Jewish communities will not be forgotten. It will be less likely that these places will be lost forever.
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Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college-level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.