Guest Post – Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix, talking about their recent book, The Grand Mosque of Paris
We are delighted to welcome Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix, joint authors and illustrators of The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust (Holiday House, 2009), talking about the background to the book – and posing some thought-provoking questions. And we offer our congratulations too: The Grand Mosque of Paris has been included on the recently announced ALA 2010 Notable Books for Children (Middle Reader) and the 2010 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children Recommended Books lists. I have read and re-read this wonderful book and cannot recommend it highly enough – and it is such a plus to have history presented in such a beautifully illustrated picture-book format. You can read more about Karen and Deborah’s work on their website, particularly about another of their co-authored books, Hidden on the Mountain: Stories of Children Sheltered from the Nazis in Le Chambon.
But enough from me – over to Karen and Deborah:
Wartime heroics in Paris. Persecuted Jews and prisoners-of-war fleeing the Nazis through the utterly dark, twisting tunnels of the labyrinth beneath the city and escaping hidden among giant wine casks on barges heading south. A clandestine Resistance group using a rare language — Kabyle — as code. Rescuers and the rescued slipping secretly in and out of one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris — the Grand Mosque — and finding refuge among its lush gardens and apartments, or even in the sanctuary. Who wouldn’t be seduced by a story like this one? But the one thing that drew us into this little-known piece of World War II history was the fact that Muslims were risking their own lives to save the lives of Jews.
“Save one life, and it is as if you’ve saved all of humanity.” It is striking and ironic that these words are found in each of these two religions that all too often seem to be bitterly divided. The current conflict between Muslims and Jews has been going on for so long, sometimes it feels as though it’s been that way forever.
But as we researched our book, The Grand Mosque of Paris: The Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, we learned that North African Muslims and Jews had referred to each other as brothers for centuries and lived side by side in peace. One of our goals with this book was to remind people that Judaism and Islam were once in harmony. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could be that way again? Seems almost impossible to imagine, doesn’t it?
And if it’s hard for us, how difficult must it be for kids, who have only experienced the intense hostility trumpeted in the news every day? But we believe that children may be our best hope.
Martine Bernheim believes this, too. She is Vice-President at a French organization that works to eradicate racism and anti-semitism (LICRA). In schools all across Europe, she has shown Derri Berkani’s wonderful documentary film, Une Résistance Oubliée: La Mosquée, about the WWII rescue of Jews at the mosque. She is struck by the shift in attitude she sees in the kids who have seen this film: racist violence decreases tremendously, as compassion increases.
Wouldn’t it be great if our book had a similar effect?