Sunday, May 16, 2004

Dreaming in Black and White

Jung, Reinhardt. DREAMING IN BLACK AND WHITE. Translated by Anthea Bell.
New York: Fogelman. ISBN 0803728115 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

In history class, an unnamed, disabled German boy is studying about the Third Reich and the issues related to genetic testing. Much to his parents’ dismay, he begins to live more in his dream world than outside. Always dreaming in black and white, he becomes a boy named Hannes Keller living in Germany during the Holocaust. He witnesses the Gestapo’s injustices and the eventual disappearances of his Jewish math teacher and his new friend named Hilde Rosenbaum. To make matters worse, the replacement for the math teacher is a cruel man that watches as Hannes flails in front of the class to bullying and jeering. After the jeering subsides, the teacher poses a mathematical query for the class: “How much does it cost the Third Reich to house and care for those who are disabled, the unwanted…?” Hannes does the math in his head and the unbelievable anguish intensifies. Probing questions begin to haunt him about people with disabilities and how they were taken to psychiatric institutions and eventually killed under Operation T4…”elimination of lives not worth living…” His fretfulness is never resolved, especially when he begins to ponder that “genetic testing won’t let anyone but perfect human beings through…Back then I’d probably have been killed…I’m a living reproach…” In one of his dreams, he overhears his father agree to put him away. Waking fails to bring Hannes any relief. After all, he has known for many years that he is an embarrassment to his parents. He knows everyone in his household is suffering as a result of his “flaws.” He silently cries out “I don’t want to be loved all the same. And I don’t want to be loved in spite of it or although and most certainly not all the more because I’m the way I am.”

Jung’s use of language is explicit and striking. The voice of the young, tormented boy (e.g. My dream is a fantasy catching the truth. An invisible net, and I’m caught in it myself and struggling….”) is disturbing and compelling. Readers will respond to the chilling betrayal that Hannes endures and to his cry, “I may be disabled, but life is as dear to me as it is to the next person.” The challenging questions worth answering will intrigue young adults, especially those dealing with the parental attitudes toward Hannes.

Questions about community attitudes and the emotional consequences of prejudice could be discussed. Students can create a time line of the events during this period. They can create a map, letter, diary, or news article relating to the period as a supplement to Holocaust curriculum. Some students might have access to authentic memorabilia such as songs, clothes, or paintings.

Other books that deal with physical disabilities, prejudices, and the Holocaust:
Matas, Carol. GREATER THAN ANGELS. ISBN 0689813538
Slepian, Jan. THE ALFRED SUMMER. ISBN 039923747X

By Rita Pickett

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