Friday, September 2, 2022

Q&A with Frank W. Baker



Frank W. Baker is the author of the new young adult graphic work We Survived the Holocaust: The Bluma and Felix Goldberg Story. A media education consultant, his other books include Close Reading the Media.


Q: What inspired you to create this book about Holocaust survivors Bluma and Felix Goldberg's experiences?


A: The book is actually a natural result from an educational website I first created two years ago that detailed the Goldbergs’ Holocaust story.


But it all started when Mr. Goldberg, after speaking at the day of remembrance ceremony at our synagogue, stepped off the stage and handed me his speech and said in a beautiful Polish accent, “Frankie, do something with this.”


After creating the website, I approached a colleague at the University of South Carolina who agreed that a graphic novel would be a perfect way to reach young people, many of whom lack essential knowledge about this critical time in history. She connected me with a publisher who right away saw the value of this subject at this time in history.


Q: How did you research the book, and what role did the Goldbergs’ family members play in your research?


A: Most of the research was done several years ago for the educational website


So what I did here was gather up most of the previously published and known assets and put them together for teachers. 


But as I listened to the Goldbergs’ videotaped testimonies, they mentioned little towns in and around Poland which I knew students would not recognize so an important part of the educational website is a map with important locations. As well, there is an historical timeline, and important primary sources and other relevant readings.


In preparation for the graphic novel, I interviewed each of the Goldberg family members, each of whom related stories that had not been previously known to me or had been published.


Part of my research revealed the name of the ship that transported them from Germany to the United States and I stumbled upon a black-and-white silent video of the maiden voyage of that ship. The family members were absolutely astounded when they saw this. They said to me, “Oh my God, Frank, that's the actual ship our parents came to America on.”


Q: The book's website says, “Felix and Bluma’s miraculous story of survival, combined with the rise of nationalism and fascism, leading to the extermination of millions of human beings is also a cautionary tale – a dangerous history that, if we fail to heed the warning signs, could very well be repeated.” Could you say more about those warning signs and any parallels you see today?


A: Allow me to relate one instance. Several months ago I saw the page our illustrator Tim Ogline had drawn, that showed Bluma and her family running from their home which had been set on fire by the Nazis.


I immediately thought of Ukraine and the millions of people who were forced from their homes at the same time carrying only essential belongings and not knowing what tomorrow might bring.


The book also addresses antisemitism, which has raised its ugly head in the United States and around the world. Despite efforts to get social media companies to remove Holocaust denial posts, many of this remains and many of our students are still susceptible to disinformation. That is one of the reasons that I have been teaching media literacy for 25 years.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I would like readers to realize, this actually happened. This is a true story. We provide evidence and primary sources and is it is important for students to begin to realize the impact of what happened many years ago and in many ways is still happening today. We cannot remain silent. The phrase “never forget” is as important today as it was when it was first coined. 


I'm also reminded that the Claims Conference [dealing with Jewish claims against Germany] recently created an awareness campaign with the hashtag “it started with words.”


Even today in the United States there are many who are using their rhetoric to influence and persuade in ways that are dangerous. It is important for today's students to be able to see through the impact of these words. Because words have consequences.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: At the present time we are finalizing a teacher guide companion to the novel. Any educator who purchases the book will have free and open access to the lesson plans and activities that we believe are critically important.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: For years as a media literacy educator I frequently attended and presented at curriculum conferences on media literacy. Today I'm continuing to do that with the graphic novel and the teacher guide.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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