The Power of Books

Guten morgen, dear reader!

I recently read a wonderful article about a woman who helped bring joy and escape to a group of children during the Holocaust. Helen Fagin, a Holocaust survivor, talks about how books save lives in a letter which can be found in The Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. In her letter, she describes how books were carefully hidden and read only once a night, to keep from being discovered.

Here is the video that Helen’s family filmed of her reading her letter:

Helen reading her letter.

Here’s the article where Helen’s letter is featured.

I was moved and found a kinship with Helen as she talked about transforming the space around her. For Helen, as a twenty-something-year-old woman, reciting the story of Gone with the Wind was creating a safe space for the people around her, a place that took her and everyone else around her out of the horrors around them. For me, I am simply taking myself out of the world around me, a world in which there’s a deadly virus crossing the globe. For me, it’s books like American Gods that rip me from my current worry.

Let me be clear: I’m not comparing the COVID-19 to the Holocaust by any means, nor am I trying to say that my troubles were like that of Helen’s or those of Holocaust survivors. I can only imagine the horrors of what Helen had to live through, and cannot fathom the terrible things that happened in places like Auschwitz.

Instead, what I’m trying to say is simply this: We share the love of books, and the love of books taking you out of the world around you–despite your current circumstances.

Helen was escaping something so terrible, while I’m merely reading for pleasure.

The fact that Helen survived the Holocaust makes her a survivor in every sense of the word. She’s a hero because of her positivity, a champion of one of the worst kinds of hate and evil that we know of. Helen, and other Holocaust survivors like her, show us what it means to be human in a time of inhumanity. Her love of books saved lives, and gave hope to others who so desperately needed to hear it.

Reading is a wonderful and powerful form of escapism. As Helen says in her letter, “There are times when dreams sustain us more than facts. To read a book and surrender to a story is to keep our very humanity alive.”

Thank you, Helen, for your beautiful letter. Thank you for your bravery.

~ Meghan B.

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