What exactly is survival? And why do we feel the need to tell stories of our survival? Survival stories have been around since the beginning of man. They are a universal trait of any given culture and people. Whether the story is told orally or is written does not matter. Even though my high school students are still young, they have already survived something, whether it is a bad childhood, a bad breakup, or adolescence itself. They will be able to relate to and understand the idea of survival. They tell survival stories all the time without knowing it. We will look at survival stories of the Holocaust, both fictional and not.
Literature is different from other types of writing, because rather than simply conveying information, literature explores experience. The writer and the reader through the writing and reading of literature share both the good and the bad of life. A writer can share life through fiction or non-fiction. When we think of survival narratives and memoirs, we almost always think of a true, first-person account, yet some survival narratives and memoirs are fiction. Why would people use imaginative literature as a way to share their stories? What benefits are there to this type of writing, versus non-fiction? What psychological need does presenting the survival story as fiction fulfill for the author? Is the author being fair to the reader if he/she presents the fictional story as a memoir or as non-fiction? These are just some of the questions students will explore in this unit. We will read and analyze two narratives of survival, both works that challenge the divide between fiction and non-fiction.
Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood,
by Binjamin Wilkomirski, is a memoir about his time in various concentration camps as a young boy. Wilkomirski claimed to be a Holocaust survivor writing his memoir, but a skeptical reader found out after doing research that Wilkomirski appears to have made up his story.
by Art Spiegelman, tells the story of his father’s survival during the Holocaust and of his own survival as the son of a Holocaust survivor. This graphic novel, in comic book form, is unique in that Spiegelman draws people with different animal heads representing different ethnicities and races. Both texts are very accessible for students.