Australians Recommend a Memoir

By Aaron O'Shannessy
Broadford Secondary College
Victoria, Australia

Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust, by Livia E. Bitton Jackson, is a true book of courage and will. She beat all the odds and survived one of the world's darkest times. She had nothing on her side, except her will to live. This non-fiction book, set in Central Europe, is about the life of a young, Jewish girl who at the age of thirteen had to face one of the toughest tests of all: the Holocaust.

[ Student Group ]
Poland: Australian and
American Student Group

Beginning in the peaceful town of Somorja, Hungary, Elli was a child like any other, interested in love, going to school, and being with her friends.

Life was normal in this small town just like any other small town in Europe. People worked; children played; animals grazed. But then things changed. Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. He used the Jews as his scapegoat, blaming all of Germany's social, political and economic problems on them. A Juden Freis Europe (Europe free of Jews) was his aim, and his goal was almost achieved.

Soon after Hitler came to power, his propaganda spread throughout Europe as Germany invaded surrounding countries. The threat of invasion reached the small town of Somorja, and on the 25th of March 1944, all schools were shut by the Royal Hungarian Ministry Of Education not long after the Germans invaded Hungary. This was the beginning of the end.

The town of Somorja was liquidated. Elli and her family were transported to a ghetto in Nagymagyar which was soon liquidated, and Elli's father was sent to a Hungarian labour camp while the rest of the family was sent to Dunaszerdahely Synagogue. They stayed here for a week before being transported to the infamous Auschwitz. At Auschwitz, Elli was separated from her brother Bubi before selection, and her Aunt Szeren was sent straight to the gas chambers. Elli and her mother were allowed to enter Auschwitz, but four days after entering they were sent to Plaszow. They worked for seven weeks with practically no food or water. After the seven weeks of hard work and many tears, they were once again sent to Auschwitz.

There is so much more to this story, and we in Australia recommend that you read this book. Elli and her remaining family, (her brother and mother), decided to leave Europe because of what happened to their family and the many other Jews in Europe. Elli and her brother presently live in the United States, and her mother lives in Israel.

Here in the state of Victoria, Australia, year 12 students study Elli as a part of their year 12 V.C.E. (Victorian Certificate of Education) for English. Many students are amazed by her story and wonder how she survived such harsh conditions. Throughout the study of this book, students are asked to write many essays. Each essay has a different topic and are all aimed at practice for the end of year exam in which essays on Elli have to be written.

The essays which are from Lake Bolac Secondary College and Broadford Secondary College are of a high standard and outline the many events which are prominent throughout the story. These essays were uploaded to "Topic 48: Discuss Elli," on the <iearn.hgp> teleconference as a part of the Holocaust/Genocide Project. There was discussion of many different topics that are listed below:

After reading all the responses, I realized that students have a similar view of the book, Elli. They think of her as courageous and having a strong will to live, wondering how she survived and was still able to go on with all the bad memories she had. Here are some excerpts from student responses which show how the students feel, think, and relate to this true story.

"We think that this quote says a lot about one little girl's will to live/survive, even though everyone else is dying. We feel, the reason that Elli survived her ordeal at the concentration camps is because she had a very, very strong will to live. She was also very optimistic and never gave up hope. How she kept up hope in those appalling conditions is beyond us. We can never comprehend what it was like to be a part of those terrible, inhumane conditions.

Why should we study this at Year 12? We feel that everyone should be aware of what happened 50 years ago. Year 12 would be the best time to study this because we are mature and are able to understand and have in depth civil conversations about this terrible, terrible event."

Sarah Pyle and Duncan Wittingslow
Broadford Secondary College



In a chasm of black I spin eternal,
In the wheel of lost souls screaming.
Wet the monstrous flames infernal,
Tell me I'm only dreaming.

For I can stand this numbness no longer,
I should rather by far the pain.
For it should make me stronger,
In the face of the Jew tear rain.

Do you know what it is not to feel?
To be a mindless staggering corpse?
These scars abundant none can heal,
And how my mind it warps.
I look into faces about me,
But their eyes betray no blood.
Should I be glad they are free,
From the cold, dark Jew tear flood?
Lost forever from a healing touch,
I live for the day I'll die.
For the abyss inside is such,
That I no longer wish to try.

Patrick Casanova
Lake Bolac Secondary College


The Feeling
The unknowing.
The loss of possession and pride,
The separation of family.
The pain, the hunger, the humiliation,
The Holocaust,
All are apart of it, it apart of all.
To those who pained, to those who tortured
Holocaust is not a word,
but a lifetime worth of scars and memories,

Matthew Sandow
Lake Bolac Secondary College


"When the Germans first ordered the Jews to display the Star of David on their homes and their clothes, Elli was horrified by the idea of having to publicly display her faith, 'I am not going to appear in public with the Jew badge. I can't be seen wearing that horrible, horrible thing.' (p 25)

Elli's comments made her appear to be embarrassed almost to be Jewish. I think she just resented the fact that she was being affected by the German's hostility simply because of her religion. She no longer knew whether she was proud to be a Jew."

Jodie Howlett
Lake Bolac Secondary College


"What Elli went through will stay with her for the rest of her life, but the resentment, the hatred, and everything she should feel towards the Germans has gone."

Brent Thomas
Lake Bolac Secondary College


"I am 15 years old and this year in my L342 class, I have heard about the Holocaust for the first time. I read the book Elli and have looked at photos of the Holocaust. I have seen other 15 year olds in the photos.

I often sit down and think about it. Why it happened. How can someone do that to a group of people because of their religion? I think about the smell of death lingering around the camps. What the people must have been thinking - "When is it my turn?" And to think that it happened only 50 years ago when my mum and dad were alive. And I think of the people who died and how old they would be now, and the families that could be. But because of one group of people who did not like the religion, they just killed the Jews. It makes me sick to think about it.

One thing in the book Elli that stands out to me happened when she was in a line and the soldier asked her if she was Jewish, and she said, "yes," and he said, "Well from now on, you are 16 years old - is this your mum? She said, "yes," so Elli and her mum stayed alive."

Carlie Macpherson
Broadford Secondary College

These student responses can be visited on Topic 48 on the HGP conference, <iearn.hgp>, and we hope to add to the topic this year with essays from the English classes at Broadford Secondary College.

Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust, Livia E. Bitton Jackson, paperback, HarperCollins Publishers, Hammersmith, London. Previously published in paperback by Grafton, 1984. Copyright, Livia E. Bitton Jackson, 1980.

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