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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Surviving Auschwitz

AP Photo/HO
A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Auschwitz death camp. More than 1.5 million people were killed in this camp during the Nazi regime.

When Danica Davidson heard Eva Mozes Kor speak at Western Michigan University in 2018, she knew she had to help share the Holocaust survivor’s story. Eva and her twin sister Miriam both survived Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in World War II. They were part of a group of twins on whom Josef Mengele conducted nightmarish medical experiments. They were only ten years old.

A conversation with Danica Davidson

Eva’s hope towards the end of her life was to educate others about the horrors of the Holocaust – especially children. She believed that antisemitism is learned in early childhood, and that telling her story to kids could keep something like the Holocaust from happening again. Working with Eva Mozes Kor, Davidson wrote Kor's story for ages 8 through 12 in the new book I Will Protect You (Little Brown, 2022).

Little, Brown
Little, Brown
The cover of I Will Protect You

“This is my 17th book, and there are 12 Minecraft books,” Davidson says, referring to the books she’s written for young adults based on Minecraft video games. “I have always written in different styles ever since I was little. So far, I’ve written mainly Minecraft and Manga, but I don’t want to be typecast as that sort of writer. I like to write about my interests, and I have a lot of interests.”

The departure from her usual genre happened after Davidson experienced antisemitism in her work as a journalist in 2015. That spurred Davidson, who is Jewish, to do more research on her heritage and write about it.

“It was during this research that I learned Eva Mozes Kor was giving a speech at Western Michigan University,” Davidson says. “So, I showed up for her speech and talked to her afterward, hoping I could interview her for a magazine. I mentioned that I write kids’ books and she got incredibly excited.”

A collaboration was born. Davidson listened to Kor’s story and wrote it down in a way suitable for children. The story was, after all, about children. While Davidson knew the story of the Holocaust, learning about the treatment of the twins by Josef Mengele was something new for her. It was a horrifying tale, but one that both women felt strongly needed to be told.

“She was adamant that the way we need to fight antisemitism is by teaching kids under 12 in an accessible way,” Davidson says. “She said most Holocaust education in schools starts at 12 or older, or not at all, and it’s not working.”

The twins’ story of their experiences in Auschwitz is difficult, but one that Davidson argues is necessary.

“I’ve already faced calls for the book to be banned before it came out,” she says. “I am aware that we are in a realm of a lot more book censorship, and they are especially getting their pitchforks out for kids’ books. But I’m going to stand by this book. Eva would stand by this book. This is reality. I would rather that kids be uncomfortable (reading the book) than go through what Eva went through. Sometimes we do have to be uncomfortable. Kids go through hard things all the time. There’s a difference between protecting kids from real things that happen and protecting them from books. It’s safe to read a book.”

Davidson recommends that parents and teachers read I Will Protect You alongside children so they can answer questions and address concerns.

Eva Mozes Kor died shortly after the book was accepted for publication in 2019.

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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