Margie Wolfe on the story of a sisterly bond even the Holocaust couldn't break
As co-founder of Second Story Press, Margie Wolfe has spent 40 years publishing stories for children about social justice, human rights, feminism and the Holocaust. She's finally decided to share her own family's story in a new picture book. The Promise tells the story of how Wolfe's mother and aunt were separated from their parents as young girls and sent to Auschwitz to do hard labour. Written by Wolfe and her cousin Pnina Bat Zvi and illustrated by Isabelle Cardinal, The Promise follows two sisters as they try to survive the daily horror of life in a concentration camp.
A devoted family
"On October 27, 1942, all the Jewish adults from a Polish town with a long tradition were removed. Nobody heard anything again of my grandparents who were sent to Treblinka and died there. My mother and her sister were put in labour camps and, ultimately, taken to Auschwitz. It was the first time in their lives that they were alone together. They were young teenagers when it began and missed so many of their formative years working, basically, as slaves. They had stayed together the whole time during the war. That bond stayed with them for the next 50 years, despite living thousands of miles apart. In many ways, they were the great loves of their lives."
"On the night that my grandparents were being taken away to Treblinka, my grandfather gave my mother three gold coins. He told my mother, 'Use these coins only for something very important — something that could possibly save your lives.' My grandmother insisted that my mother promise that she would always stay together with her sister. That was the only way they believed that the two would survive. My mother felt a lifelong responsibility to my aunt."
Confronting reality through illustrations
"I think Isabelle Cardinal's illustrations capture what was real and a bit of the surreal. Sometimes, people don't want to believe what you hear in stories like The Promise. The combination of surreal and real art is so potent and compelling. When we added the photographs in the end, I wanted to make sure people realise this is not just a story. These were real people, real girls. All they had to do was turn the page at the end and you would see those real faces."
Margie Wolfe's comments have been edited and condensed.