Meg Wiviott recently turned to YA in order to tell the story of one of the most delicate and beautiful artifacts from the Holocaust: the heart from Auschwitz.
In Wiviott’s new novel Paper Hearts, Fania and Zlatka met in the midst of the Holocaust and became fast friends, sharing hope and strength in the throes of Nazi terror. As Fania’s twentieth birthday neared, Zlatka risked certain death to create the most thoughtful gift: a tiny heart, crafted from paper and a purple silk blouse, signed by all of the girls in their work group.
After hearing about the heart from a documentary titled “The Paper Heart of Auschwitz,” Wiviott started to look into Auschwitz and all its workings.
“I started reading about the Holocaust, but quickly narrowed my research to Auschwitz specifically. I read as many survivor stories as I could find from the orchestra, the Sonderkommando, the Union Kommando, and Auschwitz in general. I also used the Shoah Testimonies that Fania and Zlatka recorded. Survivors used the language of the camp in the retelling of their experiences.”
Not only is Paper Hearts authentically and meticulously researched, but it’s written in prose, immersing the reader in the thoughts and feelings of the characters.
“Writing in verse gave me the emotional space I needed to tell this story. And I hope it gives readers the space they need to read it.”
Wiviott respects the history of the Holocaust in the way that some writers don’t.Take author Kate Breslin, who recently came under fire for her novel For Such a Time, an adult romance novel which was nominated for multiple awards.
Breslin’s book focuses on a concentration camp prisoner who falls in love with a Nazi supervisor, a premise inaccurate and offensive for obvious reasons. With outrage on Twitter and on literary blogs everywhere – such as Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – it prompted a question from writer Katherine Locke: how did you learn about the Holocaust?
“I don’t know how I learned about the Holocaust. Honestly. I have no memory of learning about it in school, though I must have… It’s just something I knew. My parents must have taught me.”
The lack of education about the Holocaust in school only heightens the call for diverse books that bloggers are demanding. Wiviott called for not only more books about and set during the Holocaust, but also for contemporary Jewish realistic fiction.
“Jews doing everyday things just like characters in every other book for young readers. We need these books not only so that Jewish kids can read books with characters like themselves, but also so non-Jews can read books with characters different from themselves.”
To achieve this level of diversity, Wiviott encourages her fellow authors to be “as kind and as gentle as possible”, and to write with “extreme honesty and respect”. By doing this, authors can give power to marginalized voices, write controversial topics, and create works that will influence future generations.