Thursday, December 7, 2023

Q&A with Barbara Krasner




Barbara Krasner is the author of the new young adult historical novel in verse Facing the Enemy: How a Nazi Youth Camp in America Tested a Friendship. Her other books include Ethel's Song. She teaches in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program at The College of New Jersey.



Q: What inspired you to write Facing the Enemy, and how did you create your characters Benjy and Tommy?


A: In the early days of the new millennium, I began to research Camp Nordland. I don’t recall how I came to learn of its existence in Andover, New Jersey.


But the idea of a Nazi bund camp in my own state rattled me and I began to think about a friendship between a Jewish boy and a boy of German heritage and how that friendship would unravel when the German boy attended this camp.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I first read Warren Glover’s Nazis in Newark book. He deposited his research notes and primary sources at the Historical Society of Greater Metrowest in Whippany.


I know the archivist and spent some time there in 2014 going through the folders of Warren’s materials. I spoke with Warren. I visited the former grounds and met with the Andover Historical Society.


But I have to say that my best sources were newspaper articles I gained access to through and the New York Times archives. Because I was contracted to write this novel during COVID, I couldn’t visit the New Jersey Room of the Newark Public Library to access the Newark Evening News, a major paper.


I also scoured academic databases for journal articles and dissertations. I found one film at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which provided me with great detail on the day-to-day existence.

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two boys?


A: Benjy and Tommy have been best friends since the third grade. They’re both looking forward to entering Weequahic High in the fall of 1937.


Entering a new school already sets up the potential for each of them to go their separate ways according to their interests and class schedules. But Tommy’s parents enroll him at Camp Nordland the summer of 1937 and the split between the boys begins.


Benjy, though, doesn’t give up on his friend and believes that no wonder what bunk the Bund drills into his head, Tommy’s got to know what’s right and what’s wrong.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book, especially given current events?


A: I heard Elie Wiesel speak at the 92nd Street Y years ago, and he said, “The worst thing anyone can do is stand idly by.” Benjy does not stand idly by. He takes action. He makes mistakes.


I hope readers understand that one person can make a difference in the life of another. Hatred does not have to be victorious. It does not have to win.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My agent is shopping around a proposal for a new YA novel in verse about an orphaned refugee in post-World War II America set against the backdrop of the Korean War and the threat of Communism.


I’m working on yet another proposal for a YA novel in verse with a collaborator about Freedom Summer.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: There are still Holocaust stories that need to be told. In reading Facing the Enemy, kids will be surprised to know some 20-30 of these Nazi camps existed across the country. That threats to our democracy and way of life can be right in our own backyards.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Barbara Krasner.

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