Deborah Jackson

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Remember . . . the courage, the commitment, the sacrifice.

In light of Remembrance Day, to honour our veterans and fallen soldiers, the best tribute is to learn their stories. I thought I’d recommend some books and movies that exemplify the trials and sacrifice, the courage of so many during one of the darkest periods in our history.

Band of Brothers.

One of the most impressive series Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks ever produced. The story of the 101st Airborne, the paratrooper division that opened the area behind the lines on D-day for the Allies to push through, were the first to begin the liberation of Holland and discovered one of Germany’s “Final Solution” concentration camps.

The Pacific is also worth looking at, but Band of Brothers is as revealing of the personalities of the soldiers and the missions they had to endure. It captures their courage and their weaknesses without emphasizing the depressive nature of war. Although it’s necessary to understand the misery and hardships, I found Pacific dragged me down too much. I want to understand, but I can’t relive.

Between Silk and Cyanide, by Leo Marks

A Codemaker’s War, 1941 -1945

In 1942, Leo Marks left his father’s famous London bookshop and went off to fight the war. He was recognized as a cryptographer of genius, he became head of communications at the Special Operations Executive, where he revolutionized the codemaking techniques of the Allies and trained some of the most famous agents dropped into occupied Europe, including Violet Szabo.

One of the most mesmerizing accounts of the Special Operations Executive and the ingenious codemakers of World War II. Not only is Marks a spellbinding narrator, he translates coding for the layman and has a delightful sense of humour. Not many events that occurred in the war were humourous, and his gift at wry wit in no way diminishes the reality, the tragedies and the blunders. I read this to do research for Time Meddlers Undercover, but I continue to pull out examples of great writing for my students.

The Diary of Anne Frank

In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building.

There will never be a more moving testament to the struggles the Jewish people faced during the Nazi occupation. The passion, the small joys, the constant irritation of living in close quarters and coming of age in a horrific situation, this book explores the reality of war from a persecuted young person’s perspective. It’s my hope that everyone will take the time to read this at some point in their life.

The Great Escape

In 1943, the Germans opened Stalag Luft III, a maximum security prisoner-of-war camp designed to hold even the craftiest escape artists. In doing so, however, the Nazis unwittingly assembled the finest escape team in military history, brilliantly portrayed by Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. They worked on what became the largest prison breakout ever attempted.

This is my all-time favourite. It reveals the determination and ingenuity of the Allied prisoners, but doesn’t shy away from their actual fate—some were recaptured and shot. This is no Hogan’s Heroes, but it’s still light enough not to disturb you for days on end. I think that we, kids and adults alike, should be aware of the reality of war, but still come away with some admiration for the heroism.

This a short list, but I think a comprehensive one for a week of remembrance. We have the soldiers, the spies and codemakers, the persecuted and occupied, and the captured. I could list several others, but I selected these because they aren’t designed to make you relive the horrors, only realize them. And I think that’s all we should do in this day and age. To relive is to become traumatized all over again, and I worry that our own traumas are just over the horizon.

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