Thursday, January 15, 2009

T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte

On one of my trips to the marvelous Children's Book World with in the fall, I purchased a small novel in verse. And I do mean small: it's approximately 5 x 7 inches, and it's very slim at 112 pages. Each page contains a lot of white space due to the nature of the poems contained thereon, making it a quick read for the adept reader, and exceedingly appealing to the reluctant one.

T4 was the name of the program that existed in Nazi Germany from about 1939 to 1943 that was designed to eliminate disabled individuals from German society. It took its name from the address of its headquarters, Tiergartenstrasse 4. Using a series of poems attributed to a fictional deaf Catholic girl named Paula Becker, LeZotte explains not only the threat of the T4 program and the terror felt by its intended victims, but also, on a more personal level, some of the challenges of being deaf, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, when some people still thought it could be cured by filling a person's ears with hot wax.

I found the book utterly engrossing and quite well done. The T4 program is one aspect of the Holocaust that has not been given nearly enough space in books, and this novel does much to rectify that situation (as well as mentioning the efforts to eradicate the gypsy population, as well as the Jews).

The author is herself deaf, which doubtless informs her writing. The first poem in the book is not so much a part of the text, but is, instead, an introduction (although it was not labelled as such, and may therefore confuse some younger readers).

Here's that opening poem, which gives you an idea of the masterful poems found in the book, and establishes what is going on, while referencing its place among other poems and poets, from William Blake to William Carlos Williams.

Hear the Voice of the Poet
by Ann Clare LeZotte

Here the voice of the poet!
I see the past, future, and present.
I am Deaf, but I have heard
The beauty of song

And I wish to share it with
Young readers.
A poem can be simple,
About a cat or a red
Wheelbarrow.

Or it can illuminate the lives
Of people who lived, loved,
And died. You can make
People think or feel

For other people, if you
Write poetry. In T4, the facts
About history are true, and
My characters tell the story.


The simple, spare poems convey so much, without infusing too much emotion into the text itself; that part is left to the reader to infer. Here, for example, is a poem entitled "Doctor Bouhler", about one of the directors of T4:

Doctor Bouhler

Insisted the deaths
Should be
Painless.

He didn't want
The patients
To know what was
Going to happen.

But they died of
Lethal injection
And starvation.


Simple, clear expression of the facts is, in this instance, more upsetting than a poem describing a reaction to that news, I think.

A well-done verse novel, recommended for middle grade readers, elementary and middle school libraries, and public libraries, as well as for anyone with a Holocaust collection.

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1 comment:

poemhome said...

Does that first poem have a missprint? The Hear in the title differs from the Here in the first line.
I've written poems about the Holocaust but haven't yet found an editor willing to go near them. For me the poems have to be emotional.