The moment I picked it up off the shelf, I knew that Morris Gleitzman’s Then was going to be a hard read. The book is the fictional story of a ten-year-old Jewish boy living in Poland during the Nazi regime. In a matter of hours, I laughed and cried my way through Felix’s story, and by the end of the book, I was as indignant as its youngest character. “Bad things aren’t supposed to happen to six-year-old girls,” I found myself screaming at the author. “Don’t you know anything?”
But even as I mentally repeated little Zelda’s catchphrase, my heart clenched because I knew… I knew that Morris Gleitzman knows something most of us live in denial of. Bad things do happen to six-year-old girls. They happen everyday. Then is a beautiful read because it details the darkness of our world without forgetting the hope that walks us through it.
This is a timeless message because, although the Holocaust is over, there are a lot of people who live in fear and bitterness… without hope.
My favorite scene in Then is when little Zelda listens to the story of a little boy who has witnessed the most horrible of massacres. Zelda’s parents were Nazis, but they died and Zelda got mixed up with the Jews. She hates Nazis. She hates her parents. But as this young boy sits weeping before her, Zelda gets out her pencil and draws a picture of a man and woman with their arms around a child. “This is my mummy and daddy,” she says. “They’re Nazis. They’re saying sorry.”
I think all of us could afford to be a little more like Zelda. We should all learn to release our bitterness for the betterment of someone else. We should look for the ones who are hurting and do whatever we can to help ease the pain. To help restore hope. Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that make the biggest difference.
Don’t you know anything?