Imagine being a young Jewish girl in Paris during the Holocaust. You have no clue what is going on or why, but your life is crumbling around you. Your school buddies distance themselves from you and treat you like an alien. The government kidnaps your parents. Finally, you are forced to move and go into hiding. All of this happens just because you are Jewish. How could you have any understanding or acceptance of such things? There have been many comics written about the Holocaust, but Hidden tells the story through the eyes of a young girl.
Here’s the official description from First Second Books:
In this gentle, poetic young graphic novel, Dounia, a grandmother, tells her granddaughter the story even her son has never heard: how, as a young Jewish girl in Paris, she was hidden away from the Nazis by a series of neighbors and friends who risked their lives to keep her alive when her parents had been taken to concentration camps.Hidden ends on a tender note, with Dounia and her mother rediscovering each other as World War II ends . . . and a young girl in present-day France becoming closer to her grandmother, who can finally, after all those years, tell her story. With words by Loïc Dauvillier and art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo, this picture book-style comic for young readers is a touching read.
I must admit, when I first started reading the story, I cringed. It opens with an innocent young girl named Else asking her grandmother, Dounia, if she is sad because she had a nightmare. The grandmother responds “you could say that,” and then the girl asks her to tell her about the nightmare. Oy. I figured this may not go well. I immediately worried that the young girl would end up suffering from PTSD, like her grandmother most likely did. Luckily, Dounia tells a story that is more about hope than despair.
At times, I even laughed. My favorite part was when Dounia’s father explained to her that she had to wear a yellow star patch because the family had just been recruited to all join the police. When she went to school the next day she felt the other kids were treating her badly because of their immense jealousy. But, as humorous as that part was, it is absolutely chilling as the little girl becomes aware of what is going on around her.
The tale is inspirational as we see how far Dounia’s neighbors were willing to go to protect her and her innocence after her parents are taken. Even though Dounia doesn’t realize how much danger she is in, the characters around her are willing to sacrifice their lives to help her. They, too, give up their identities and go into hiding.
I also liked the theme of survivors telling their stories so that they live on. This is important today as remaining Holocaust survivors decrease in number.
Hidden’s art makes the story much easier to swallow. Characters have huge big ol’ circular heads and awkward bodies. Because it is drawn in such a cartoonish manner, you can digest the difficult subject matter without squirming too much. This also makes the big reveal that much sadder. This book did not need to show the concentration camps or the ghettos. There is one image that will forever haunt me, an image that no young girl should have to see. I will not ruin it for you, but it nearly brought me to tears.
The amazing thing we learn in the afterword is that Dounia’s story was not unique. “Eighty-four percent of the Jewish children living in France before the Holocaust were saved,” thanks to “those who rejected racism and hatred of those who are different.” In stark contrast to the horrors of the Shoah, this story shows us that many amazing people were willing to sacrifice and stand up for human rights and dignity.
Overall, Hidden is a great comic showing a unique perspective on the Holocaust that should inspire readers to stand up to injustice, hatred and ignorance. It’s a wonderful story that can teach our kiddos a lot. In a scary and unfair world, our youth looks to comic books for saviors, but this book shows examples of heroes our kids can actually aspire to be like. While anti-bullying campaigns fill schools, this book gives kids an incredibly strong example of heroes going to any lengths to battle hatred.