Thursday, June 17, 2010

Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944 by Aranka Siegal 1981

Designated Newbery Honor Book, 1981

This memoir by Aranka Siegal (born in 1930) is the story of the five years before the author and her family were transported to Auschwitz. Siegel, who was born Aranka Davidowitz and was called Piri, divides her memoir into three sections. The memoir opens in the summer of 1939 when the author is nine years old and is visiting her grandmother in the small farming town of Komjaty in Ukraine. The setting is bucolic, the days dictated by the cycle of milking the cow and enjoying the outdoors and the attention of her grandmother. But the world beyond the farm is disintegrating and when the author’s mother comes to visit, Siegal overhears her mother and grandmother have a conversation about perhaps sending the children to America.

The second section takes place in the town of Beregszasz where Aranka Siegal and her family lived. The town had been part of Czechoslovakia, but was now under the control of Hungary and Germany. Refugees from other towns roamed the streets and the author’s mother along with others, including her children, participated in a dangerous, clandestine organized scheme to shelter them. At this point goods were being rationed and the author goes into vivid detail explaining the lengths her mother went to keep her children clothed and fed, and she describes her mother’s baking their last loaf of bread.

The third and last section of the memoir takes place in the ghetto. The Germans moved all the residents of Beregszasz to the town’s brick factory where conditions were overcrowded and squalid. Again, the author focuses on her mother’s attempts to make their corner as livable as possible. The ghetto residents shared information and misinformation and waited, knowing trains were coming to take them to Germany. The memoir ends when the trains arrive.

Aranka Siegal exhibits great narrative skill. For example, throughout, she describes vividly the increasing deprivation and worry and she builds unbearable suspense as the residents of the ghetto await the trains. We are particularly horrified because we know with much more certainty than they do what awaits them once they board the trains.

Note: This memoir has been marketed to young adults but its content is certainly informative and of interest to adults. What makes it suitable for young readers is an unadorned writing style and unintimidating vocabulary. And of course, its biggest draw for young readers is that the story is about the author when she was a young adult.

To read a short biography of the author as well as to see a picture and see a list of her other books, click here.

People
 Fage Rosner – author’s maternal grandmother
    Rise  – Fage's daughter;  first husband, Mayer; second husband Ignac Davidowitz
        Etu -  Rise's daughter (living in Budapest)
        Lilli – Rise's daughter; married Lajos (from Salank)
            Manci – their daughter
        Rozsi - Rise's daughter
        Aranka - Rise's daughter; author
        Iboya- Rise's daughter      
        Sandor - Rise's son
        Joli - Rise's daughter
    Srul Davidowitz – Ignac’s brother
    Lujza Davidowitz – Ignac’s sister
    Sanyi Davidowitz – Ignac’s brother

Aunt Helen ( in Sozolos)
      

Places
Komjaty, Ukraine
Sozolos, Czechoslovakia
Salank, Czechoslovakia
Budapest, Hungary

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