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Interview: Doreen Rappaport

February 11th, 2013 (07:00 am)
artistic

Current Mood: artistic
Current Song: Elevator by Erin McCarley

Good morning, Bildungsroman readers! Please welcome Doreen Rappaport, author of Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, which won the Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers Category. Let's jump right into our interview:

What was the impulse or reason for you to undertake this subject?

A librarian, Dr. Lawrence Gold, was the impetus for my researching this topic.  I was researching a book on Jewish Americans in the Dorot room of New York City’s 42nd Street public library. I had been there for a couple of months when one morning Dr. Gold brought me three huge volumes that I had not ordered.  I told him I had not ordered these books.  He smiled and said, "But I think you’ll be interested in them."  I was too busy with my research to even look the books over. For the next couple of weeks, Dr. Gold brought those three volumes to me every day when he delivered the books I had ordered.  I realized how determined he was that I at least look through them. The books, edited by Isaac Kowalski, were titled Anthology on Armed Jewish Resistance, 1939-1945. These volumes contained Xeroxes of articles and memoirs by Jewish partisans, resisters, etc.  Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I had never heard about family camps in the forest, or smuggling children across borders, or any uprisings other than the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  Here was a body of information to be explored. And so began my journey. I remain grateful to Dr. Lawrence Gold for leading me into this astounding history.

What resources (museums, libraries, historians, relatives) did you find most useful when researching your book?

I had the honor that Michael Berenbaum, former project director of the U. S. Holocaust Museum, agreed to critique my manuscript.  He read it twice.  His comments and suggestions on accuracy, emphasis, terminology, and balance were invaluable.  I also contacted historians who specialized in the various countries I was writing about.  Over a wonderful lunch Dr. Steve Bowman shared his vast knowledge of Greek resistance and sent me copies of his research notes.  Dr. John Cox sent me his doctoral dissertation on the Baum Group and Eric Brothers, who recently published his own wonderful book, Berlin Ghetto, shared all his research.  I don’t even want to think of how many times I telephoned Geoffrey Megargee, the editor of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s seven volume Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos with questions about maps, names of camps, names of sub-camps, etc.  I sent endless questions to Peter Black, the head historian of the USHMM, who answered promptly and referred me a few times to additional books.

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I wrote about the experiences of Ernest Fontheim, Israel Cohen and Jack Kagan; I emailed my stories to them many times to assure accuracy. All of these scholars and resisters showed such generosity, patience and concern for my book.

The Internet was invaluable in gathering both written information and photographs. Museums have catalogued their photos online. I looked through probably 20,000 images to choose the 200 in my book.  Without these websites, I probably would not have been able to find the diversity of images I found, as it would have been economically impossible for me to visit the various archives in Europe and Israel.  I cannot praise enough the wonderful curators at the various institutions who often found images I missed and secured permissions.

Walking on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor were profound emotional experiences I will never forget.

Beyond Courage is considered a cross-over books for young adults and adults? How did you decide on the format and organization of the book  to work for both groups?

This was really the hardest part. The stories I found were so exciting and dramatic that I wanted to tell them as fiction (without fictionalizing anything) to maximize my readers’ attention.  But I knew introductory material was absolutely necessary to provide historical context for understanding these individual events. Adult readers have emailed me that they were grateful for background material introducing each segment and the maps that grounded them in the geography of Nazi-occupied Europe. It took many versions to integrate all this material, and it wouldn't have been possible without the constructive criticism of my outstanding editor, Mary Lee Donovan.

How did researching and writing this book affect your life?

I feel I was privileged to learn about so many Jewish children, men and women, who exhibited extraordinary courage and foresight during the nightmare of the Holocaust.  I had the privilege of speaking directly with three survivors and forging a friendship with one of them.  My research led me into a world I knew nothing about and filled me with enormous pride about these courageous Jews. 

All of my books are about the same thing: empowerment, struggle, resistance, determination.  This research confirmed for me once again that during all eras in history, no matter how dark the times, human beings struggle to resist, to defy, to keep their dignity, and to rescue their loved ones and others. This thought gives me hope when I despair about the state of the world today. 

Have you always been interested in history and biographies? What motivates you to research and write about history?

I have always been interested in history, but it was my involvement in the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s that led me to realize that at all times in history, there was struggle and resistance and that there were many "not-yet-celebrated" men and women and children who exhibited courage in nightmare situations, and I wanted to write about them.  And so I have.

As a pianist, music teacher, and daughter of a singer and a musical arranger, your life has been filled with music. Do you listen to music while writing, or do you prefer to write in silence?

I never listen to music when I’m writing or researching. Though I no longer play the piano, music is still an essential experience for me. I do not conceive music as background. When I write, I want to focus on writing.  When I listen to music, I want to focus on the music.

What has writing taught you about teaching? How has teaching informed your writing?

The biggest influence in how I approach writing stems from my years studying the piano.  What I learned then was that you need to practice, and if you practice, you get better and better and better.  Persistence in researching, persistence in revising, taking criticism from editors and copy-editors, are all ways of becoming a better writer.

As a music teacher for seven years, then a fifth grade teacher and a reading teacher, I saw clearly that if you want children to learn and respond to new information, you need to find a dynamic way to shape it so they will want to read your book and want to learn even more than you have written about your subject.

Do you ever have your students or grandchildren read your works-in-progress?

I often send a manuscript-in-progress to schools with a list of questions for children to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Then I visit the school and talk with the children about how I responded to their critiques.  I never have my grandchildren read my works-in-progress. They can’t be objective readers. But my husband heard and reheard and read and re-read Beyond Courage as it dominated our life for the last six years. He says if I ever get sick and can’t speak at a conference or a school, he will go and speak in my place.

What are you working on now? and/or Who (or what) would you love to write about next?

I have a couple of Jewish-centered ideas and an escape story on the Underground Railroad.

Visit Doreen's website.

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image(1)  Beyond Courage by Doreen Rappaport  Doreen Rappaport

THE 2013 SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD BLOG TOUR

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2013

Ann Redisch Stampler, author of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Shelf-Employed

Carol Liddiment, illustrator of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Ann Koffsky’s Blog

Doreen Rappaport, author of Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers Category
At Bildungsroman

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2013

Linda Glaser, author of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At This Messy Life

Adam Gustavson, illustrator of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger ReadersCategory
At Here in HP

Louise Borden, author of His Name was Raoul Wallenberg
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Randomly Reading

Deborah Heiligman, author of Intentions
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At The Fourth Musketeer

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2013

Sheri Sinykin, author of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Read, Write, Repeat

Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Reading and Writing

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2013

Linda Leopold Strauss, author of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Pen and Pros

Alexi Natchev, illustrator of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Madelyn Rosenberg’s Virtual Living Room

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2013

Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah

Visit The Association of Jewish Libraries blog and the official Sydney Taylor site

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview: Robin Friedman
Interview: Trina Robbins
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2012

Comments

Posted by: (ext_1647632)
Posted at: February 12th, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC)
Doreen Rappaport's "Beyond Courage"

Thank you for this interview with Doreen Rappaport. The subject of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust is so compelling, and important for children to read about when they are taught about the Shoah. I cannot wait to read this book, and to share it with my honorary father-in-law, who was a Jewish partisan in Poland.
Best,
Ann Stampler

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: February 12th, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Doreen Rappaport's "Beyond Courage"

Thank you for reading and commenting, Ann!

2 Read Comments