MICHAEL ROSEN needs no introduction to children, parents and teachers who are drawn to his humanity. It’s a quality which fills this short book, one in which a single paragraph or line of poetry can give rise to deep reflection or intense discussion.
Rosen’s hunt for his missing relatives, in particular two great-uncles about whom his father said: “They were there at the beginning of the war but they had gone by the end,” covered many years of research and culminated in this book, a mix of personal family history interspersed with the general history of the rise of the nazis and WWII.
Pitched at anyone over the age of 10, the factual text is broken up by poems, photos and letters, with the prose telling the story of his research and the poems exploring his emotional responses to his findings.
Rosen explains that he wrote the book not only to keep alive the memory of those who were killed in concentration camps but also to make a stand against prejudice today, especially when it’s promoted and institutionalised by governments.
He hopes that The Missing: The True Story of My Family in WWII can be a springboard for discussion on the current refugee crisis.
He eventually finds out what happened to his relatives and the discovery is heartbreaking. His great-uncle Martin lived in the Vendee in western France, where local police were ordered by the nazis to arrest all Jews. At 2.30 am on January 31, 1944, four policemen arrested Martin and he was transported to his death in Auschwitz. Of his convoy of 1,500, 42 survived.
Rosen’s great-uncle Oscar and his wife Rachel had travelled from their home in Sedan in German-occupied France to Nice, where they and about 30,000 other Jews hoped to be evacuated by sea to safety.
They were caught and they too died in Auschwitz. On their convoy of 1,200 Jews, 27 men and two women survived the camp. Rosen’s related poem Dear Oscar is almost too painful to read.
The fate of European Jews seen through the prism of one family provides a relatable insight into the horror of the Holocaust — it’s a human link to the past and Rosen makes the point that genocide happens to ordinary people.
And he delivers a warning for the future. These terrible things happen bit by bit in stages, he writes, so vigilance is needed to recognise the signs of a dangerous, slippery slope.
As he often talks to children about the Holocaust, he hopes that The Missing will be used in schools, particularly in the Key Stage 3 History syllabus but the book has a value and power for any reader.
He ends on a note of optimism :“We can’t live on despair: we always have to find a reason to hope, because the world doesn’t have to be this way,” he declares. “More than that, we can’t let it”.
Published by Walker Books, £8.99.