In January 1942, the “Final Solution” becomes the Third Reich’s official policy, marking all Jews within the Nazis’ grasp for destruction. People not immediately shipped to work camps or slain are forced into crowded slums to await their fates while starvation and exposure reduce their numbers. In the face of deliberate extinction, occupants of Warsaw’s ghastly ghetto document their existence—burying work cards, diaries, business records, and art—so their cached archives will speak to the future if the people can no longer speak for themselves.
Young Rivka Rosenfeld becomes an Underground Archive witness after she watches German soldiers slash her grandfather’s beard from his face. Though she risks execution because writing materials are forbidden, the horrified girl begins a journal, penned in the margins of a Hans Christian Andersen book. When Rivka reads her own story, “The Jewish Geese,” aloud, her vivid image of wild geese flying over Warsaw’s walls and leaving their hated Star of David armbands behind, inspires the ghetto’s children to paint their own memories. All become part of the Underground Archive.
The award-winning Sydelle Pearl’s Wordwings is a poignant depiction of these tragic, yet uplifting events, written as the diary of twelve-year-old. It is an especially good work to introduce the Holocaust to younger readers, but enjoyable for adults as well. If there is hope to be found in such horror, Ms. Pearl offers it in the words of a child who imagines her words pushing up from the ground and taking wing.