The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write this story?
Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum (AWR): I was around 10 when I first heard about the Holocaust. I became immediately obsessed by it. I just couldn’t believe it had actually happened—even though I knew it had. I was lucky to have had all four of my grandparents, none of whom were survivors.
Over the years I read as much as I could about it. I wrote poems, a song called “Whispering Wind,” and a story called “The Color of Hope” which was published in Cricket Magazine and won the 2008 SCBWI Merit Magazine Award for Fiction. But the more I learned about it, the less I understood how millions were persecuted and murdered just for being Jewish.
When our youngest child was 11 he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He suffered for a year and a half until his gastroenterologist put him on an infusion called Remicade. This medicine improved our son’s health immensely. Soon we learned that Remicade was created by Dr. Jan Vilček, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Vilček had been born in Czechoslovakia in 1933. In 1942, when his mother saw that the family was in danger because they were Jews, she placed Jan in a Catholic orphanage. He was 9 years old. Eventually his mother came back for him and they hid out together until the war was over. In 1965, Dr. Vilček immigrated with his wife to the United States.
Dr. Vilček’s story shook me to my core. What if he hadn’t survived? What if Remicade had never been created? How would that have changed my son’s outcome?
I wondered about the million and a half children who perished.
Who would they have become?
What great contributions in Science, Art, Literature, Education, Music, and Philosophy did the world lose when they were wiped out?
We’ll never know.
I kept on wondering and began searching for stories of other childhood survivors. I started finding true accounts of siblings who had been separated. Each had thought the other was gone for good, until their children and grandchildren urged them to search for family. I think this is where Hand in Hand began. But it took me years to get Ruthi and Leib’s story right.
TWM: Do you belong to a critique group? Who gives you feedback?
AWR: I do belong to a critique group and I’m blessed to know a lot of wonderful picture book writers. My daughter is also a valued first reader. Then there’s my amazing agent, Natalie Lakosil. She loved Hand in Hand the first time she read it. I was doubtful we’d be able to sell this book and I’m so incredibly grateful for Natalie’s support.
TWM: The story is very beautifully and lyrically written? Does that come naturally to you? Do you have a poetic background?
AWR: I’ve been reading, studying and writing poetry for years. Some of my poems have been published in Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, Babybug and Highlights. Rhyme feels very natural to me. But free verse poetry is concentrated and powerful. It was the only way to tell Ruthi and Leib’s story.
TWM: I was very moved by the postwar reunion. Was that always part of the story’s arc? If so, why?
AWR: I tried to put myself in Ruthi’s head. How did a child in that situation survive after losing everyone they loved and everything they knew? Then I saw a video of siblings being re-united some sixty plus years later. I hadn’t heard that Holocaust story before. And I discovered it had happened to multiple people. There’s no way a child could survive such an ordeal without help and a deeply rooted love for family. How could I not write about it?
TWM: What was the greatest challenge in writing Hand in Hand?
AWR: Trying to make it universal. The Holocaust is not just Jewish history. The only way I can wrap my head around it is to take it as a warning to humanity. This could happen again. This could happen to you. Any people, culture, or religion can be singled out and blamed for societal ills. The challenge is for us to remember that the Holocaust did happen. We must make sure that it never happens again. We’re obligated to teach children that underneath our skin we’re all exactly the same.
TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction?
AWR: Knowing that Hand in Hand was going to be published was incredibly satisfying. It’s the book of my heart. Writing it felt like channeling many voices. Voices that had been silenced. It really isn’t my story. It’s the story of millions of children who had their lives stolen.
TWM: Who inspires you?
AWR: I’m most inspired by my children and grandchildren. Family means everything to me. In fact, all children inspire me. They fill me up with hope for the future.
TWM: What’s next for Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum?
AWR: I have a rhyming picture book called Boats Will Float due out in 2020 with Sleeping Bear Press. I’m a picture book writer at heart, but I hope to write a novel in verse one day. I love the form and think it’s the perfect form for a middle grade novel. I’ve written a few before. But I’d like to write one I can sell.
Thanks so much for inviting me on The Whole Megillah, Barbara!
About Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum
Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum is a former special education teacher. She writes picture books, poetry and short stories from her home in New Jersey. You can learn more about Andria and her books at her website. Follow her on Twitter at: @andriawrose.