Great-Uncle Oscar, Great-Aunt Rachel, Great-Uncle Martin and other family members were missing from Michael Rosen’s post-war childhood. Although those who had disappeared were spoken of, there was mystery around what had happened to them. (A poem for Oscar and Rachel is available at https://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.com/2019/01/clockmender-oscar-rosen-and-his-wife.html). For Rosen, some of the mysteries were not resolved until he was doing the research which formed this book.
This outstanding short book is written for children aged about ten and up, as well as adults. It is a useful and appropriate way to start talking about the Holocaust with children. He tells his family story through accessible and moving prose interspersed with his poems. In a moving interview in the Guardian, he talks about the long impact of the silence about those who were missing (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/dec/28/michael-rosen-family-history-jewish-culture). As the article notes: “Unusually, the book is aimed at children aged 10 and over, as well as adults. Rosen decided to write it that way after visiting a school where a pupil denied the Holocaust to his face. “This young man put up his hand and said: ‘It didn’t happen, did it?’” As the teacher panicked, Rosen remembers counting to three and patiently saying: ‘Well, no, it did happen.’”
Rosen shares original family letters, postcards and photos which make the stories even more compelling, and show readers that you can do your own research about things that are important to you. You don’t need to be a specialist.
Fans of Rosen’s work will meet people they remember: his memorable childhood friend Harrybo; his beloved father; and his grandfather (who turns out to be the inspiration for this excellent poem from You Tell Me http://bepalmer.blogspot.com/2012/05/). I had this book as a child. I can remember so many of those poems now.
One of the things that makes the book truly exceptional is the framing of the stories as being absolutely similar to stories of current refugees. “This story is about things that happened to my family a long time ago, back when photos and films were in black and white. But when I think about it, my relatives were refugees – a lot like the people you may have seen on the news recently… So I hope this book becomes part of a bigger conversation about the refugee crisis. About how to find fair and decent ways of helping people like my relatives” (p. 5). Deep humanity emerges from the book which contrasts with the inhumanity that caused the deaths of all these much-missed people. This makes The Missing both beautiful and essential reading right now.