Kristy Cambron is the author behind two of my favorite novels, The Butterfly and the Violin and the novel Kristy is sharing about today, A Sparrow in Terezin (click on titles to see my reviews). She has quickly become a writer that I greatly admire, for I've found her stories to not only be highly entertaining, but they give me great cause for introspection.
I am thankful to be able to share this Litfuse Publicity interview with Kristy and also offer a copy to one of our readers, details at the end. Please meet my friend, Kristy Cambron . . .
Just like a single candle can brighten a dark room, a glimmer of hope can sustain the soul in dark times. In her highly-anticipated second novel, Kristy Cambron shines a light on the resiliency of the human spirit in A Sparrow in Terezin.
Q: Your new book has a unique title — A Sparrow in Terezin. Where is Terezin, and what happened there?
Terezin (or Theresienstadt in German) was a small fortress and garrison city converted to a ghetto and concentration camp during WWII. Positioned just an hour automobile ride north of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic, the 18th-century fortress was an ideal place for the Nazis to set up a Gestapo prison for political prisoners early in the war. By 1941, the camp was converted also to a ghetto and transport camp for mainly Czech, but also Soviet, Polish, German and Yugoslavian Jews. Of the approximate 150,000 prisoners who passed through Terezin during the course of the war, nearly 90,000 were deported to Auschwitz or other extermination camps. Of the 15,000 children who were sent to Terezin between 1942 and 1944, fewer than 100 survived the war.
Q: How was Terezin different than other concentration camps we may be more familiar with?
Terezin was cruelly referred to as the “Model Ghetto” or “Paradise Camp,” but the horrors of indiscriminate killings, starvation and disease that occurred there made it anything but. The Nazi regime used this camp as a propaganda tool and transport camp, beautifying parts of the city late in the war as a model to show how “well” the Jews were being treated in all of the concentration camps. In reality, the Nazis used a beautified Terezin — with a public park, window boxes with flowers, even painted-plaster meat that hung in butcher shop windows — all as a ruse to mislead the International Red Cross. To alleviate over-crowding before the arrival of Red Cross workers, the Nazis shipped tens of thousands of Jews from Terezin to killing centers (such as Treblinka and Auschwitz) in occupied Poland.
Q: What compelled you to tell this particular story from the World War II era?
In early 2004, I was a young college student in an art history class. I remember the moment when the professor presented a topic I’d never heard of — the art of the Holocaust — and I was instantly captivated. From that day on, I devoured any books I could find on the subject, especially Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I still read every year. I remember hearing that whisper in my soul, that this topic was special somehow; the art of creation and worshipping God, even in the midst of the most horrific of circumstances one could imagine. It’s a stunning expression of beauty I still can’t fully understand. And though it’s a very weighty subject, I wanted to give a voice to these known artists, to help others hear their story. So I stored the idea away, hoping someday I’d know what to do with it. Ten years later, it turned into this series.
Q: Tell us about the children of Terezin. Where did you first hear their story?
While studying for my undergraduate degree in art history, I completed much research on the art of the Holocaust, specifically, the prisoner camp art of Auschwitz and the children’s art of Terezin. During that research, I came across I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944 (Schocken Books, 1993). This book changed my heart forever. There are stunning pieces of the children’s art inside its pages. Watercolors. Cut-paper collages in brilliant colors. There are peaceful still-life portraits and others, more heart-wrenching, of work details and guards with machine guns. There are songs and poetry, all imagined by the sweet little hands and hearts of the children of Terezin. The art of these children refused to leave my heart. The images are so heart-wrenching that they beg for a voice. It’s because of them Sophie and Kája’s story was born in A Sparrow in Terezin.
Q: Why did the arts thrive in Terezin? What do you think the appreciation of the arts tells us about humanity?
A real shocker for me was to learn that not only did the arts community exist in Terezin, cultural life seemingly thrived. Despite the lack of basic sanitation, food and clean water (and people dying by the thousands), great effort was put into the arts. There were academic lectures on topics such as medicine, the arts and Jewish history, full symphony and chamber orchestra performances — Brundibar (or Bumble Bee) was a children’s operetta both written and performed within the camp. There was even a 10,000-volume Hebrew lending library. An appreciation of the arts would usually be exciting to research, but given the conditions the people endured, the investment in it here is heart-breaking. The lack of humanity is sickening.
Q: What lessons can we learn from your heroine, Kája, as she uses her education and abilities in the concentration camp? How were her talents able to aid her survival?
Like Adele’s journey in The Butterfly and the Violin (the first book in the series), Kája’s skills had a very large part in her survival. She was smart and brave in a way she couldn’t fully understand. But in the world of Terezin, she had a better chance than most. In a cultural community that was thriving, Kája would have been seen as added value. And though survival was a big part of her motivation, I think there was something greater: hope. She knew most of the children in her ghetto school would ultimately not survive. Instead, she used her God-given gifts to infuse them with hope in the best way she knew how. I love the fact that in the end, she cared more about the children (her little sparrows) than she did about her own survival. This brave part of her story tugs at my heart like few things can.
Q: Did you struggle telling such a devastating story? How did you manage to infuse A Sparrow in Terezin with a message of hope?
That’s a great question. The simplest answer has to be — yes. Some of the research was so gut-wrenching that I had to take breaks just to get through it. I broke the book into segments on The Blitz, the contemporary storyline and the scenes in Terezin. Because the ghetto scenes were so heavy, I’d have to step away from both research and writing for a time, work on something else and come back to them later. But despite the difficulty, I wanted the story to have hope. In fact, everything hinges on it. Joshua 1:9 is the foundation for Kája’s journey, both before and during her time in Terezin. There had to be hope for her to lean on, to know that no matter what was happening around her, God was still faithfully by her side.
Q: What is the number-one message you would like readers of A Sparrow in Terezin to walk away with?
Above all, my hope is that readers walk away from this reading experience with a changed heart — to know that no matter what journeys life brings, they can have strength and courage with every step. We can stand firm on the truths in Joshua 1:9 and find our courage in Him, whether it’s in circumstances as horrific as the Holocaust or the discouragements of our everyday lives. He can still bring beauty from ashes. He can (and will) still breathe life and color and hope into every situation.
To keep up with Kristy Cambron, visit www.kristycambron.com and TheGROVEstory.com storytelling ministry. You can also become a fan on Facebook (KCambronAuthor) or follow her on Twitter (@KCambronAuthor).
To enter the drawing for A Sparrow in Terezin, please leave a comment . . . For instance, have you read Kristy's first book, The Butterfly and the Violin? Are you a fan of WWII fiction? If so, are there any authors or titles you would recommend?
BE SURE TO LEAVE YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing.
If you'd like to receive e-mail notifications of reviews, author interviews and giveaways, please subscribe to my blog in the upper right corner. "Likes" on my Facebook page, ThePowerofWordsBookReviews, are also greatly appreciated, as are followers on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and this blog.
E-mail required for entry in the drawing. Contest ends at midnight PST on Thursday, April 30. Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.
Eligibility: US residents, 18 and older