Susan Lynn Meyer

For Readers of Black Radishes and Skating with the Statue of Liberty: The French Resistance

The French Resistance

A Guest Post by Educator Catherine Maryse Anderson

 

Black Radishes, the novel that precedes Skating with the Statue of Liberty, offers readers a look into the everyday people who risked their lives for the French Resistance. Readers of both books will marvel at the bravery and cleverness of Gustave’s friend Nicole, who, with her father, helps move Jews and others out of France’s Nazi-occupied zone.

 

The French Resistance movement is an umbrella term which refers to numerous anti-German resistance movements that were based within France during World War II. While groups and individuals had different strategies and leadership, they were all opposed to the installation of the collaborative Franco-German government in Vichy France from 1940-1944 and sought to end German occupation of France and beyond.

 

Resistance members were men and women of all faiths and economic backgrounds. They maintained underground newspapers, provided safe houses and transport for Jews, delivered valuable information to the Allies, and interfered with the Nazis’ ability to communicate and disperse supplies.

 

Children like Nicole did play a role in the Resistance. Jean-Jacques Auduc, celebrated as France’s youngest Resistance member, carried messages in the handlebars of his bicycle starting when he was 11 years old. His whole family played a role in the Resistance. Even Jean-Jacques’ grandmother was a traveling radio operator for the movement. By the time Jean-Jacques was 12, he was actively spying and committing acts of sabotage.

Jean-Jacques Auduc Dossier

Jean-Jacques Auduc Dossier

 

In Skating with the Statue of Liberty, Gustave writes letters to France not only to maintain his friendship with Nicole, but also in hopes of discovering news of his Jewish friend Marcel, whose fate is unknown. Gustave asks his father, “Nicole’s father is in the Resistance…They helped us, so why couldn’t they help Marcel?” (p. 41) Gustave is haunted by the news coming from Europe. He is terrified that Marcel is among those captured, imprisoned, and possibly murdered by the Nazis.

 

At the close of the novel, Gustave receives a cryptic letter from Nicole that reads, “our friend, you know who I mean, he is playing hide-and-seek. He is very good at hiding. Robert is drawing something on the pavement…” (p. 282). When Gustave figures out the riddle, he realizes that this is “a secret message, hidden from the Nazi censors, from the prying eyes that would look over the letter before it left Occupied France. ‘He is very good at hiding.’ She was telling him that Marcel was in hiding! Marcel was alive!” (pp. 282-3)

 

According to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, “approximately seven thousand Jewish children in France were saved during the Holocaust due to the courageous efforts of various groups, and brave individuals too many to mention.” From individual families who took in a single child to heroes like Madame Germaine Chesneau of Chateau de Peyrins, who housed 108 Jewish children, citizens across France helped children escape, obtain forged papers and form new identities, and hide throughout the war.

 

As the war raged on, the Resistance movement gathered momentum and resources. They mounted attacks against the Germans, helped Allied airmen get to safety, and provided increased intelligence to Allied forces that eventually led to victory. The world owes a great debt to these men, women, and even children who risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbors and to defeat the Nazis through stealth, intelligence, and fortitude.

 

Do you think you would have been as brave as Nicole to share stories written in a secret way to share information? How do you think that Nicole’s efforts helped Gustave and Marcel? What are other ways that you know of that people have been part of resistance movements either in history or in stories? What are some of the common themes of resistance?

 

Further Reading:

“Hidden Children in France During the Holocaust” from The International School for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center

Messages in Handlebars: the Youngest Resistance Fighter by Kendrick Kirk (Author), Jean-Jacques Auduc (Narrator), Claire Kirk (Translator). Published by Kendrick Kirk, 2011.

The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco. Published by Penguin Random House, 2000.

 

Sources:

“The French Resistance” from The History Learning Site (UK)

“Non Jewish Resistance” from the Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

Video: “French Resistance” from the History Channel

 

Image sources:

Témoignage de Jean-Jacques Auduc from Vive la Résistance

 

CatsMarcel

Cat’s son Marcel visiting the Statue of Liberty!

About the Educator:

Catherine Maryse Anderson has an extensive 15-year background as a public school literacy and humanities teacher in Portland, Maine. She spent two years as a literacy coach for Portland Public Schools and led statewide symposiums on building educator capacity for cross-cultural competency in the classroom from early childcare through college. She was a runner up for the Teaching Tolerance Educator of the Year. Catherine has been involved in ongoing performing arts projects for twenty years and is a published poet and essayist.

 

Posted on 04/14/2017 09:00 am | Leave a comment

For Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: Tin Can Drives

Tin Can Drives

A Guest Post by Educator Catherine Maryse Anderson

In the final chapter of Skating with the Statue of Liberty, Gustave and September Rose get “into a long line of kids carrying crates and bags full of flattened cans” (p. 285). When they reach the front of the line, they are thanked for “helping our boys overseas.” Like the characters at Battery Park that day, Americans of all ages took part in a massive campaign to support the war effort. Citizens saved and collected metal scraps to “become bombs to defeat the Axis of Evil abroad!”

 

Gum wrappers; tin foil balls; metal cans; and copper, iron, and tin scraps were all in demand. Children would go from door to door in urban and rural communities asking everyone for contributions. Who didn’t have an old broken rake, a garbage pail lid, or a baking dish to add to the cause? Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops were often leaders of the drives. No one was too young to do their part!

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Boy Scouts Gathering Scraps in Lincoln, Nebraska, 1943.

It is not entirely clear how many munitions, bombs, weapons, tanks, planes, or naval destroyers were actually fabricated from these collected metals. Regardless of their physical utility, the drives had an undeniable psychological purpose — gathering scrap metal increased morale. By giving people at home a sense that they were contributing to the war effort, they felt a deeper commitment to the war and the citizens fighting abroad. Recall when September Rose’s grandmother in Skating With the Statue of Liberty pulled down her beloved metal bird sculptures and gave them to September Rose to donate as a “way to bring Dad home” (p. 287). Her son’s safe return was entirely out of her hands, but the successful metal drive propaganda made September Rose’s grandmother feel like she was truly assisting.

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World War II Propaganda Poster

In addition to scrap metal, patriotic Americans were encouraged to collect and donate rubber, to conserve fuel by carpooling, and to plant “victory gardens” to feed their families and save resources. Each of these efforts were thought to contribute to the Allies’ chances of victory abroad.

 

How do current school and home recycling programs help students feel like they are working toward a greater cause? How has the modern school gardening effort taught students about self-sufficiency and healthy eating? What drives have students contributed to in times of crisis? How could classrooms and readers help their communities and the larger world through action?

 

Sources:

“Scrap Metal and Rubber Drives” from School Library Education Consortium

“Rationing & Scrap Drives” from Farming in the 1940s

“Girl Scouts and WWII” from The National WWII Museum, New Orleans

 

Image Sources

Image 1: Boy Scouts Gathering Scraps in Lincoln, Nebraska, 1943.  Source: Nebraska Studies.

Image 2: WWII Propaganda Poster.  Source: Southern Metal Recycling Inc.

 

CatsMarcel

Cat’s son, Marcel, visiting the Statue of Liberty!

Catherine Maryse Anderson has an extensive 15-year background as a public school literacy and humanities teacher in Portland, Maine. She spent two years as a literacy coach for Portland Public Schools and led statewide symposiums on building educator capacity for cross-cultural competency in the classroom from early childcare through college. She was a runner up for the Teaching Tolerance Educator of the Year. Catherine has been involved in ongoing performing arts projects for twenty years and is a published poet and essayist.

Posted on 04/11/2017 08:00 am | Leave a comment

For Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: Anti-Semitism in the United States in the 1940s

Anti-Semitism in the United States in the 1940s

A Guest Post by Catherine Maryse Anderson

 

Susan Lynn Meyer’s novel Skating With the Statue of Liberty opens in 1942 on board a transport ship bound for America. Gustave and his family are on that ship to escape the persecution of Jews in their native France. As has been the case for immigrants and refugees arriving to the United States throughout history, their expectations and the reality of life in the United States differ. Gustave expects he is leaving anti-Semitism and prejudice behind in Europe.

 

Anti-Semitism, or hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group (Source: Merriam Webster), has plagued the world for more than 2,000 years. Jews arriving in the United States in the 1940s found that America was not free of this blight.

 

Gustave’s family encounters anti-Semitism in both subtle and overt ways. On their very first train ride to New York, Gustave’s hope of living without racial and religious prejudice is shattered:

“Refugees,” Gustave heard a man say. Then from behind him, he heard a woman utter a one-syllable word.  It was the first time he had heard the word in English, yet somehow he knew what it meant. He knew that tone of voice.  It was the same tone of voice in which he had heard certain people in France hiss “juifs,” the same tone of voice in which Germans spat out “Juden.” He hadn’t thought he would hear that particular mixture of repulsion and smug superiority here in America. But he had. The woman had muttered “Jews.” Skating With the Statue of Liberty, p. 28.

 

As you are reading the novel, notice when the author depicts other anti-Semitic encounters. Is such prejudice exhibited at Gustave’s school or in the family’s search for housing? Have you experienced subtle or outright hostility directed at your cultural background or religious beliefs? If you haven’t had that experience, how does the author help you to understand what it feels like?

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Anti-Semitic Poster Equating Jews with Communism, 1939

While the origins of racism and prejudice are deeply complex, anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the 1940s was fueled by unjust propaganda from Europe. For example, after World War I, the German government claimed that the Communist Jews, acting as spies, caused the Germans to lose the war. The Germans warned that the Jews, and thus Communism, could take over Europe. This fear of the spread of Communism (a form of government that was considered a great threat to democracy) was echoed by xenophobes in the United States. Anti-communism fed anti-Semitism.

 

 

 

 

 

UntappedCities-NewYork-PMNewYorkDaily-NikkiLohr

Fake Cover of New York City’s PM Newspaper Warns of Possible Future German Takeover

Others in America feared that Hitler’s mad conquest of Europe would expand to an attempted takeover of the United States. Propaganda and rumors were spread that Jewish refugees in the United States were acting as German spies in exchange for protection of their families in Europe. Anti-German feelings fed anti-Semitism.

Other Americans believed, as they have with every new population of refugees, that the new arrivals would take away housing or jobs from long-term Americans. Anti-immigration feelings feed anti-Semitism.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that anti-Semitic Americans were not jolted out of their xenophobia in the face of the extreme anti-Semitic atrocities being committed against the Jews in Europe. In the early 1940s, however, many Americans did not know about the Holocaust.

In 1942 the United States Department of Justice withheld a report from the World Jewish Congress about the Nazis’ threat to annihilate the Jews. Fearing that this horror could be only a rumor and that the United States would have no success in a large-scale rescue attempt, the government did not act and did not inform citizens. It was not until 1944 that President Roosevelt, under pressure from his own government and the American Jewish community, took public action to rescue European Jews.

If the U.S. government had shared the information from the World Jewish Congress with the American people in 1942, do you think the U.S. would have acted sooner to aid the Jews? How would this information have changed the perception and welcome of refugees like Gustave and his family? How does their experience compare to that of those seeking asylum in the United States today?

How can extreme expressions or acts of prejudice make people reassess their own views? Have you ever shared an opinion with someone, but changed your opinion when you saw that person do something you did not like or respect?

 

Resources & Sources

Antisemitism Bibliography from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“Antisemitism” from Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“The United States and the Holocaust” from Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1941-1952” from Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“Photo Exhibit ‘PM New York Daily: 1940-48’ Rediscovers one of NYC’s Lost Newspapers” from Untapped Cities

“Antisemitism in History: World War I” from Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

 

Image Sources:

Image 1: Anti-semitic Poster Equating Jews with Communism. United States, 1939

Source: Jewish War Veterans Museum

Image 2: Fake Cover of New York City’s PM Newspaper Warns of Possible Future German Takeover

Source: Untapped Cities

 

About the Educator:
Catherine Maryse Anderson has an extensive 15-year background as a public school literacy and humanities teacher in Portland, Maine. She spent two years as a literacy coach for Portland Public Schools and led statewide symposiums on building educator capacity for cross-cultural competency in the classroom from early childcare through college. She was a runner up for the Teaching Tolerance Educator of the Year. Catherine has been involved in ongoing performing arts projects for twenty years and is a published poet and essayist.

Posted on 04/08/2017 09:12 pm | Leave a comment

For Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: the Double V Campaign

The Double V Campaign

A Guest Post by Educator Catherine Maryse Anderson

 

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Double V Logo

Today we are surrounded by logos and slogans designed to capture our attention, draw us to a product, or encourage our participation in a group or movement. Shoes and other items of clothing often have a symbol instead of a name, and phrases like “Yes We Can” or “Kinder Gentler Nation” are associated with presidential campaigns.

In Skating with the Statue of Liberty, we learn about the Double V through September Rose and her brother, Alan. The Double V as a symbol and slogan was started in 1942 by the , one of the era’s most prominent African American Newspapers, also known as “The Black Press.” Regional and national newspapers today feature stories about all the people in the region and the country, but in 1942, the United States was still a very segregated country. As a result, African American communities relied on the Black Press to ensure their news was told and shared.

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WWII Propaganda Poster

In World War II, great numbers of African Americans were asked to fight for freedom against the “Axis of Evil” abroad, only to return home to a country still very much in the grips of fundamentally racist Jim Crow-era beliefs. Despite risking their lives for this country, when they returned home, they did not have the ability to make the same kinds of choices about their lives as their fellow white soldiers did. In the spirit of naming this bind, and trying to help African Americans write themselves into their country’s history in a patriotic and emboldened way, James G. Thompson, a 26-year-old African American man, introduced the Double V concept in a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier. His voice is considered one of the main sparks of the Double V campaign.

 

In it, Thompson wrote: “Being an American of dark complexion and some 26 years, these questions flash through my mind: ‘Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?’ ‘Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow?’ ‘The V for victory sign is being displayed prominently in all so-called democratic countries, which are fighting for victory…Let we colored Americans adopt the double V for a double victory. The first V for victory over our enemies from without, the second V for victory over our enemies from within.” —James G. Thompson, 1942, Source: Learner.org

[Historical Note: The term “African American” was not used to describe people of color until the 1970s. In the 1940s, Black people most often described themselves as “Negro” or as “colored.”]

Shortly thereafter, other African American newspapers such as the Chicago Defender, The Baltimore Afro-American, and The New Amsterdam in New York City carried stories brought into focus by the Double V campaign. Stories expressed outrage about the treatment of African American soldiers abroad and citizens at home.

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Participants in the Double V Campaign

The Double V campaign aimed to change the way African American soldiers were seen and celebrated both at home and abroad. Each week Black Press newspapers featuring the Double V image would relate stories about African American war heroes and African American war effort volunteers at home and would encourage readers to buy war bonds. Often papers included endorsements by political figures and celebrities to call more attention to the cause. Double V Clubs were formed to gather items to send to soldiers overseas; to meet with businessmen about nondiscriminatory hiring practices; and when conversation failed, to organize demonstrations, as Alan and his contemporaries did in Skating with the Statue of Liberty. But on the other side of this was a growing frustration that not enough was being done fast enough. Tension in African American communities began to mount, leading to large-scale riots in Chicago and New York.

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The Inkspots Promote Double V

Interestingly, the Black Press was often caught in the middle, fearing that if they did not condemn the riots or protests, then all African Americans might be seen as taking away attention and resources from the United States to defeat of the Axis powers abroad. But what the Double V campaign gave way to was a deepened sense of purpose and voice in many communities, leading to Freedom Rallies in the late forties and several long-term changes, like the breaking of the color barrier in sports like baseball in 1947 with Jackie Robinson and President Truman’s Executive Order to desegregate the Armed Forces in July, 1948.

What is a cause or movement that you believe deeply in? What was it about the slogans or logos they employed that caught your attention or helped you to understand their message?

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The Double V Campaign in NYC

What is it about the Double V campaign that may have particularly appealed to Alan in Skating with the Statue of Liberty? What is it about being part of this movement that might have felt dangerous to September Rose’s grandmother? Have you ever wanted to participate in a cause or movement that someone else did not want you to be part of? How did you handle that? Do you think Alan made the right choice?

 

Additional Educator Resources:

TeachNYPL: World War II and the Double V Campaign (Gr. 10-12)

 

Sources:

“The Double V Campaign in NYC” by Hannah Lee, The History of NYC

“The Double Victory Campaign and the Black Press: A Conservative Approach to ‘Victory’ at Home and Abroad” by Haley D. O’Shaughnessy, Inquires Journal

“What Was Black America’s Double War?” by Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Root 

“Democracy: Double Victory at Home-Abroad,” American History in the Making

“The Tuskegee Airmen at a Glance,” The National WWII Museum: New Orleans

 

Image Sources:

Image 1: Double V Logo (Source: Inquires Journal)

Image 2: WWII Propaganda Poster (Source: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans)

Image 3: Participants in the Double V Campaign (Source: National Archives)

Image 4: The Inkspots Promote Double V (Source: Memorial Hall Museum’s American Centuries)

Image 5: The Double V Campaign in NYC (Source: The History of NYC)

CatsMarcel

Catherine’s son Marcel visiting the Statue of Liberty!

About the Educator:
Catherine Maryse Anderson has an extensive 15-year background as a public school literacy and humanities teacher in Portland, Maine. She spent two years as a literacy coach for Portland Public Schools and led statewide symposiums on building educator capacity for cross-cultural competency in the classroom from early childcare through college. She was a runner up for the Teaching Tolerance Educator of the Year. Catherine has been involved in ongoing performing arts projects for twenty years and is a published poet and essayist.

 

Posted on 03/09/2017 06:00 am | Leave a comment

For Readers of Skating With the Statue of Liberty: 
Immigration Restrictions During World War II

Today, we have something special: a guest post about SKATING WITH THE STATUE OF LIBERTY from a teacher from Portland, Maine!  Thank you, Catherine!

IMMIGRATION RESTRICTIONS DURING WORLD WAR II

By Educator Catherine Mayrse Anderson

Anne Frank, famous the world over for the diary and legacy she left behind, was born the same year as author Susan Lynn Meyer’s father. Susan’s father, the model for Gustave in the novel Skating with the Statue of Liberty, was granted refuge in America along with his family. Anne Frank and her family were denied. How does immigration policy in America in the 1930s and 1940s continue to to have an impact on our culture?

To emigrate means to leave one’s own country to settle in another country permanently. During World War II, more than 340,000 Jews were forced by the German Nazis to emigrate from Germany and Austria. Others fled or attempted to flee from countries the Nazis invaded.

The novel Skating with the Statue of Liberty opens in January of 1942. Gustave and his family are fleeing France, which is under partial German occupation. Gustave leaves behind his best friend Marcel, who he fears has been taken by the Nazis. (To learn more about Marcel and what Gustave’s family faced in Nazi-occupied France, read Susan Lynn Meyer’s earlier novel, Black Radishes.)

Nazi propaganda claimed that the Jewish people were an “alien threat.”

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Illustration from an antisemitic children’s primer. The sign reads “Jews are not wanted here.” Germany, 1936.

They sought to remove that contrived threat by any means necessary. Jews who fled their home countries because of this severe persecution and the threat of imprisonment in internment camps (camps the world would later learn were death camps) were refugees, or people seeking safety. The United Nations defines a refugee as someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Refuge is another word for safety. Are refugees always safe?

When Gustave and his family left France to live and practice their beliefs freely, they arrived in the United States as immigrants. An immigrant is someone who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. As a Jewish child, traveling to America from France during World War II, Gustave was, therefore, not just an immigrant, but also a refugee.

 

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Passengers aboard the St. Louis

While a few families, like Gustave’s, were allowed into the United States, many more were denied entry. Already, by June of 1939, more than 300,000 Jewish immigrants had applied to enter this country. Most of them were not allowed in because a growing sense of xenophobia (fear of foreigners) led the United States to maintain low quotas for entering visas. The Great Depression and the scarcity jobs at home added to the growing concern that allowing displaced persons from abroad into the United States would be disastrous. The most tragic of these episodes was when more than 900 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany aboard The St. Louis were denied entry to Cuba and the United States. They were forced to return to Europe after President Roosevelt gave into exaggerated claims that Jewish refugees were potentially Nazi spies and would be putting United States citizens at risk. Many of the passengers later perished in the Holocaust.

Later, when the full extent of the Nazi regime’s crimes were acknowledged, more than 400,000 displaced persons from World War II were granted visas to enter the United States permanently between 1943 and 1945. More than 96,000 of these new Americans were Holocaust survivors.

Throughout history, people have immigrated by choice, or against their will as refugees from one country to another. What are some examples of the immigrant experience that you are familiar with in your own family history, or that you have learned about in literature or the performing arts?

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Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, 2013

Approximately 65.3 million people are displaced somewhere in the world today. 21.3 million of those people have registered as refugees. What countries are people fleeing from? Why? What are the similarities and differences between this refugee crisis and the crisis of the Jews in the 1930s-1940s?

Like Gustave, Susan Lynn Meyer’s father was a Jewish refugee from France. If Susan Lynn Meyer’s family had not been given entry into the U.S., what could have been the impact? Would you be reading and sharing the novel Skating with the Statue of Liberty? What are some of the gifts that you and your family bring to your community that we would never know about if you were not allowed to live here?

Explore More:
“Holocaust Encyclopedia: Refugees” from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005139

“Teaching Resources” from the UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency
http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/teaching-resources.html

“Teaching About the Refugee Crisis and Making a Difference” from IAmSyria.org
http://www.iamsyria.org/teaching-about-the-refugee-crisis-and-making-a-difference.html

United Nations “World Refugee Day”: learn about current refugee stories and experiences
http://www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/

Anne Frank: Center for Mutual Respect http://annefrank.com/

Ten Myths About Immigration from Teaching Tolerance
 http://www.tolerance.org/immigration-myths

Meet Young Immigrants: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/young_immigrants/

 

Image References:

Image 1: Illustration from an antisemitic children’s primer. The sign reads “Jews are not wanted here.” Germany, 1936.
Source: US Holocaust Memorial Museum
https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_ph.php?ModuleId=0&MediaId=605

Image 2: Passengers aboard the St. Louis
Source: US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dr. Liane Reif-Lehrer
https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_ph.php?ModuleId=10005139&MediaId=1029

Image 3: Syrian refugee children in a camp in Lebanon, 2013.  Source: CNN: //www.cnn.com/2013/09/08/health/gupta-child-refugees-syria-lebanon/

 

CatsMarcel

Catherine’s photo is of her own son Marcel visiting the Statue of Liberty!

About the Educator:
Catherine Maryse Anderson has an extensive 15-year background as a public school literacy and humanities teacher in Portland, Maine. She spent two years as a literacy coach for Portland Public Schools and led statewide symposiums on building educator capacity for cross-cultural competency in the classroom from early childcare through college. She was a runner up for the Teaching Tolerance Educator of the Year. Catherine has been involved in ongoing performing arts projects for twenty years and is a published poet and essayist.

 

Posted on 02/23/2017 07:00 am | Leave a comment

Refugee’s Daughter: The Story Behind BLACK RADISHES and SKATING WITH THE STATUE OF LIBERTY

I’m the daughter of a child refugee.

My widowed grandmother came here with her two children in November of 1942, making them among the last Jews to escape from Nazi-occupied France.  They had been helped by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.  My father, Jean-Pierre Meyer, arrived here without shoes. His only pair had been stolen during the train voyage they took through Spain and into Portugal, so he took his first footsteps in America wearing bedroom slippers. Years later, he remembered those slippers: they were navy blue, Scotch plaid.

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My father and my aunt Eliane, first on the left and third from the left, in France in 1937.

Millions of European Jews were desperate to get away from the Nazis, and the U.S. wasn’t eager to have them. Jews were a despised religious group. Letting in Jewish refugees could endanger national security, or so officials in the FBI and the State Department claimed. Rather than improving the vetting system, it was easier to turn them away.

Because my grandparents located a distant American relative willing to sign an affidavit on their behalf, my family members were among the lucky few who were finally granted permitted to enter. It was too late for my grandfather. It was very nearly too late for any of them. Eight days after their ship docked in Baltimore, the Nazis occupied the whole of France, taking over Vichy France, where they had been living.

My grandmother found piecework and sewed spangles onto hats in their tiny apartment. My father’s first job in America was as a bicycle delivery boy for a laundry. Thanks to the strong New York public schools, he attended junior high, then Stuyvesant, then CCNY, then Cornell, and became a brilliant and renowned mathematician.

My father had six children. Among us there are a physician, three college and university professors, an investment banker, two writers, and a child psychologist. (Some of us have more than one job.) We’re the parents of ten children. Two among us are married to first-generation immigrants from other countries. Because my father, my aunt, and my grandmother came to the United States, they survived World War II. If they hadn’t been admitted, none of the six of us would be here.

Would this country have been better off without my family?

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My dad and his six kids, about 1973. That’s me, on the far right.

I think often about all the other desperate Jews, the ones who couldn’t gain entry to America or to any other country, the ones who remained in Europe and were murdered. What talents has the world lost in losing them and their descendants?

What talents and capacities will our country lose now if we stop admitting refugees?

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Jean-Pierre Meyer receiving the Seki-Takakazu Prize on behalf of JAMI, the Japan-U.S. Mathematics Institute, 2006.

The six of us kids, like my father, have contributed to the American economy—we have worked hard and paid taxes all our adult lives. We have also contributed in other ways to this country. We pay attention, we vote, and we sometimes engage in political protest. That’s what you do when you love your country and want it to do better. My parents took us kids to Civil Rights rallies and to protests against the Vietnam War. Some of us are protesting now.

We six children of an immigrant father are contributing our intelligence, our work ethic, our awareness of history, our belief in freedom of religion, our passion for education, and our commitment to social justice to this country.

 

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My father, Jean-Pierre Meyer, with granddaughter Eleanor.

 

Ours is an American story. Many of you have similar ones.

That is what America is supposed to stand for. That is how America is supposed to work.

 

Posted on 02/20/2017 06:09 pm | 12 Comments

For Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: 1940s Songs

Most likely there are some songs mentioned in Skating with the Statue of Liberty that you do not know, unless you happen to be old enough to remember the year 1942.

Maybe you would like to hear some of them.

 

Here’s the Chiquita Banana jingle that September Rose sings, the one about never putting a banana in the refrigerator:

Chiquita Banana original jingle

September Rose sings some wartime songs too.  One is from the point of view of a soldier who is off at war.  He asks the woman he loves at home to wait for him.  It’s called, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me”.  This version is sung by the Andrews Sisters in a movie from 1942.

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The Andrews Sisters, dressed to entertain the troops

In a letter to Nicole, Gustave mentions a Duke Ellington song called “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing).”  This is an example of swing music, which is jazz music with a lively, lilting rhythm–the kind of music that makes you want to tap your feet or nod your head or get up and dance.

Gustave’s music teacher, Mrs. Heine, thinks swing music is vulgar, so she is shocked when she realizes that because of a trick the kids have played on her, she is playing the opening of this song on the piano in music class!

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Duke Ellington

So there you have it!  A little taste of the sounds of the 1940s.

 

 

Posted on 07/22/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

For Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: September Rose’s Father

Sometimes, when you write fiction, something odd occurs.  Out of the blue, it feels as if your work has become real.

This has happened to me twice before.  Once was after I had finished writing my first novel, Black Radishes. I was in the library and I picked up a book cataloguing the Jewish children deported from France during World War II.  For some reason, I felt impelled to look up the names of the Jewish children who are characters in my novel.  I looked up Gustave Becker’s name, and I was relieved to find that it was not there.  Then I looked up Gustave’s best friend, Marcel Landau, the one he worries so much about–and I was shocked to find that there he was.  It was deeply unsettling and dismaying to learn that a real boy with this name had been targeted by the Nazis.

 

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Serge Klarsfeld, Author of Memorial to the Jewish Children Deported from France.

Then a little over a year ago, after my picture book, New Shoes, came out, I got a Facebook “friend request” from a lady with an unfamiliar name.  Her profile picture was the cover of my book.  Surprised, I clicked on her name to find out more about her–and she turned out to be the mother of the real girl who posed for the paintings of Ella Mae!  And she had posed for the paintings of Ella Mae’s mother!

 

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That was an altogether happy and wonderful feeling!  Seeing them in present-day clothes, and getting to know them a little bit through Facebook, made it seem l as if my book had come miraculously to life!

 

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Leigh Burton and daughter Jordan, the models for Ella Mae’s mother and Ella Mae!

 

Now it has happened for the third time.

Look whose face appears in a painting in the Harvard University Art Museum!  Seeing that painting, I felt as if I were looking right at September Rose’s father from my novel, Skating with the Statue of Liberty.

 

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Robert Smullyan Sloan, “Negro Soldier, 1945”. Harvard University Art Gallery.

The painting, by Robert Smullyan Sloan, is titled “Negro Soldier, 1945.”  The plaque next to it on the wall identifies the street scene behind him as 125th Street in Harlem.

125th Street appears in Skating with the Statue of Liberty.  That’s where September Rose and Gustave go to spy on Alan and the other Double V group members as they protest the fact that black people aren’t being hired to work at a department store in Harlem. When I saw that face in the painting, I felt as if I had found out for sure that September Rose’s father has come home safely from World War II.  I was relieved to know that.

But what do you think the man in the painting is thinking?  Does he seem happy to be home in America, to be back in New York City?

I wonder what he has seen during the war.  I wonder if there is a good job for him, out there in the city.

He has fought for Victory abroad.  Will there be Victory at home for him?

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Posted on 07/06/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

For Young Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: Mr. Quong’s Cat

Gustave first notices Mr. Quong’s Hand Laundry because there is a cat in the window, lying on a red and gold blanket in a patch of sunshine.  He taps on the window to say hello to her.

Later, when he goes in to examine the second-hand pants, the cat, Molly, comes over to greet him.  She jumps up onto the counter and sits in the middle of Mr. Quong’s notebook when she wants him to pay attention and feed her.

Would you like to guess where I got the idea for this cat?

Here’s a secret: our cat, who used to belong to my mom, is named Molly!

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And when she wants to be fed, what do you think she likes to do?

She tries all of these tricks:IMG_0123

She sits in front of the fridge, in the middle of the kitchen.

She jumps up onto the table and sits on the book I’m reading.

She sits on my computer keyboard.

If people still aren’t paying attention to her, she finds an ankle and gives someone a little nip.

It can get a bit annoying!  But I guess I’d be annoying too if I were hungry and needed attention.

I thought Molly deserved to be in a book.  So now she is!  Here she is, posing with the finished, published novel!

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What funny things does your pet do?  Would you like to try writing a story where your pet appears?  And if you don’t have a pet, remember–this is fiction!  You can invent one!

 

Posted on 07/01/2016 05:00 am | Leave a comment

For Readers of Skating with the Statue of Liberty: Mr. Quong’s Hand Laundry

In Skating with the Statue of Liberty, Gustave gets his first job in America working as a delivery boy for Mr. Quong’s Hand Laundry.  This comes pretty directly from my father’s life–he too worked for the Chinese laundry across the street delivering packages of clean laundry on a giant tricycle.

I wish I had a photo of my father on the delivery tricycle, but his family had just come to America and I doubt if they even had a camera at that time.  But here is what delivery tricycles looked like:

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Lots of new Chinese immigrants worked in laundries in the 1940s.  It was hard, exhausting work and involved very long hours.  Most recent Chinese immigrants couldn’t speak much English.  They didn’t have much money to start businesses with, and they faced racial discrimination in America.  So many of them found that working in laundries was the best available job.

 

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Using an abacus to calculate prices in a Chinese laundry.

Some European-American laundry owners got upset about the competition from the Chinese laundries in the 1930s.  In 1933, they got a law passed in New York saying that all laundries had to be owned by U.S. citizens.  (And Chinese immigrants at this time could not become citizens.)

 

An organization called the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance was formed to fight this law.  They succeeded in getting it repealed.  The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance continued to fight in other ways for the rights of Chinese Americans.

 

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Ironing. Notice the little girl with the ice cream cone.

In Skating with the Statue of Liberty, Mr. Quong has a “Hand Laundry.”  A “hand laundry” was one where all the clothes were ironed by hand–and that was a lot of hard work too.  Can you imagine how hot it must have been, in those days before there was much air conditioning, working in a laundry in the summer?

 

 

Delivering on a heavy, clunky delivery tricycle was hard work too.  Gustave gets tired out from doing it.

 

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Arthur Leipzig, “Ideal Laundry,” 1946. The Jewish Museum of New York.

By the 1950s, there weren’t nearly as many Chinese laundries anymore. Laundromats with coin-operated machines were becoming common.  The children whose parents had operated the hand laundries went on to have different lives from their parents.  Many studied hard and were able to go to college because of the labor and sacrifice of their parents. So more kinds of jobs became available to them as adults than had been the case in their parents’ generation.

 

Posted on 06/26/2016 06:21 pm | Leave a comment