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Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944

Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944

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Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944

4.5/5 (25 évaluations)
244 pages
5 heures
Mar 24, 2003


The classic true story of one child's experiences during the holocaust.

Nine-year-old Piri describes the bewilderment of being a Jewish child during the 1939-1944 German occupation of her hometown (then in Hungary and now in the Ukraine) and relates the ordeal of trying to survive in the ghetto.

Upon the Head of the Goat
is the winner of the 1982 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and a 1982 Newbery Honor Book.

“This is a book that should be read by all those interested in the Holocaust and what it did to young and old.” —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Mar 24, 2003

À propos de l'auteur

Aranka Siegal Aranka Siegal, one of seven children, was, raised in Beregszasz, Hungary. During World War II, when Aranka was thirteen, she and her family were moved from their home to the Beregszasz brick factory, which had been turned into a ghetto to house Jews. Shortly thereafter, they were deported to Auschwitz. Upon their arrival on May 9, 1944, she and her older sister were separated from the rest of the family, and they never saw them again. Eventually, the two girls were sent to Bergen-Belsen, and in 1945 they were rescued by the British First Army. Through the Swedish Red Cross, Aranka and her sister were then brought to Sweden, where they lived for three and a half years before emigrating to the United States. From earliest childhood, Aranka learned reverence for books from her grandmother, Babi. She was only twelve years old when Jewish children were banned from the public schools. What books her family owned, and what few others could be obtained, became individual treasures, enabling her to escape from her world -- a world that no longer made sense. Aranka wanted to capture in her own books the human element of the war. In Upon the Head of the Goat, she depicts the emotions of a young Jewish girl caught up in events that were to destroy her world. Grace in the Wilderness is a continuation of that story, but Aranka does not focus on life in the camps. Instead, she describes the aftermath of the war, how she and her sister had, in effect, to learn to live again. Her most recent book, Memories of Babi, is a series of stories based on the author's childhood visits with her grandmother on her farm in the Ukraine, in the years before World War II. Aranka decided to write for young people "because they will be the recorders of history in books yet to be written . . . I know that having read my story they will remember the meaning of 'scapegoat' and refuse ever to participate in spreading prejudice . . . I believe in the importance of my message and its inherent truth as history." When Aranka arrived in the United States in 1948, she had to learn yet another way of life and master a sixth language. She married, had two children, and when they went off to college, pursued her own higher education on a formal level. She received her B.A. in social anthropology in 1977, and for a year hosted a radio show on which she recounted her experiences in Hungary and other countries. She also became a substitute teacher and lecturer in schools and colleges. Aranka Siegal now lives in Florida. UPON THE HEAD OF THE GOAT: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944, a 1982 Newbery Honor Book and the recipient of the 1982 Janusz Korezak Literary Award and the 1982 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, was Aranka's first book. Her second book, GRACE IN THE WILDERNESS: After the Liberation 1945-1948, was selected a Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies by the National Council for Social Studies-Children's Book Council Joint Committee.

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Upon the Head of the Goat - Aranka Siegal




FROM THE TIME I was five my mother would send me from Beregszász to spend the summers with my grand-parents in Komjaty. The open fields, the river, and the forest of this. Ukrainian village became my playground. The color of the wild flowers, the feel of the forest, the sound of the water, the humming of the insects, the warmth of the animals—these experiences became the play from which I learned so much.

I rose to the rooster’s crowing and roamed everywhere until dusk. What seemed strange at first—the people, their clothes and habits—quickly became familiar. Their language was Ukrainian, but Babi spoke to me in Yiddish. No, not Hungarian, or Ukrainian, said Babi; you must learn Yiddish. Soon I could ask questions in three languages.

In 1939, when I was nine, the impending war in the rest of Europe still seemed far away from us and my mother had sent me to Komjaty to spend the spring holidays with Babi and my older sister Rozsi. Mother, not wanting Babi to live by herself after the death of Grandpa Rosner, had decided to send each one of us five girls in turn to stay with Babi. She started with Lilli, the oldest. Lilli, however, did not last long as Babi’s companion. She met her husband, Lajos, in Komjaty and, after a summer romance, was married at sixteen. Then it was Rozsi’s turn to join Babi.

Like Babi, Rozsi thrived on the farm. She shared Babi’s love for the animals and the fertility of the fields. Life in Komjaty was predictable and simple. The climate and the seasons made the decisions for the inhabitants. At twelve years of age, Rozsi knew that she wanted to live with the land. She wanted earth, not cement, under her feet.

A few days after I arrived, a major battle over disputed borders broke out between Hungary and the Ukrainian Resistance Fighters trying to hold on to their independent state. Babi, Rozsi, and I could hear bursts of gunfire from the border most of the day. The women, children, and old people huddled together in their small whitewashed and straw-thatched houses. The animals had been gathered and locked in the barns. Babi sat in her chair in the kitchen, with her shawl around her, fingering the worn pages of her prayer book as her mouth moved in silent prayer. Rozsi sat beside her, crocheting.

I was frightened and cried, wishing I were home in the safety of my own city in Hungary. Babi’s house seemed small and exposed, set in the midst of her flat fields. The fence around it was only waist-high and the gates were without locks. The front porch didn’t have a gate and led right to the kitchen entrance. The kitchen was the center of the house, flanked on each side by a bedroom. The larger of these served as dining and sitting room, as well as our bedroom. The guest bedroom on the other side was used mainly for storage. None of the rooms seemed very secure to me; anyone could easily enter at any time.

I want to go home, I said.

Don’t be afraid, comforted Babi. Nothing bad will come to us. Our house is full of His books, and they will protect us.

I was not completely reassured when, toward the end of the day, I heard a rowdy bunch of victorious Hungarians march up the road. I ran out with my long, knotted scarf of red, white, and green and tied it to Babi’s gatepost as a welcome sign. The village was kept awake long into the night with the sounds of celebration coming from the tavern.

Babi lit the kerosene lamp and let it burn until I fell asleep. In the morning when I awoke, I immediately went over to the window and looked out: I was curious to see if Komjaty had changed overnight under the Hungarian occupation. Dressing quickly, I went into the kitchen, looking for Babi and Rozsi, but they were in the barn, tending the animals.

I put on my sheepskin coat and red rubber boots and went out into the woods. The forest ground was a patchwork of colorful flowers, gray puddles, and white snow. By the time I had gathered a bouquet of flowers, my cotton stockings were soaked with icy water, and I realized that my boots had several small holes in them.

As I started to run back to Babi’s house, I could hear the loud gushing of the river and went to look at it. All the lesser streams, as well as the melting snows, channeled into the Rika at this time of year, swelling the water so that it rushed down, taking away everything lying in its path except the largest boulders.

My attention was caught by a log floating toward me. As the current carried it closer, I realized that it was not a log but a body. It was a body clad in a Ukrainian uniform, face up, approaching head first. Despite my uneasy confusion, I stepped closer to the water’s edge and stooped on a rock to get a better look. The face, puffy with death, was that of a boy between eighteen and twenty. He had the high cheekbones so typical of the young men of Komjaty, but I couldn’t tell whether his eyes were open or closed. I dropped my crocuses, and soon they were floating, scattered on that young man’s body as the stream flowed past me.

I saw two more soldiers in the river before I turned my back. These bodies, in the middle of the river, were being thrown from rock to rock. The bodies all had one thing in common; they were all missing hats and boots. Thinking of my stepfather, whom I had so often seen in his officer’s uniform, and of my baby brother, Sandor, who would grow up to wear one, I started running again and did not stop until I reached Babi’s warm kitchen.

Babi was standing in the doorway putting on her shawl, getting ready to go out to look for me. Don’t you know better than to run off without telling us where you’re going? she scolded with concern in her voice.

But, Babi, I saw three dead men floating in the Rika! I said. She didn’t say another word, but took off her shawl, wrapped it around me, and walked us back into the kitchen while I continued, They were Ukrainian soldiers. What will become of them?

Without answering, Babi gently guided me down into the chair, took off my wet boots and stockings, fixed hot milk, and cut a thick slice of black bread which she buttered and sprinkled with coarse sugar. As I drank the milk and ate the sweet, crunchy bread, I watched the burning logs turn to ashes in the open stove while Babi carefully worked the thread through her loom. Her voice came toward me from what seemed a great distance, although she was not more than two meters away. They are at peace now, she said, as she worked her loom. Soon I fell asleep and did not awaken until Rozsi returned from her day in the fields.

There were no more reprisals by the Ukrainians, and a few days after seeing the bodies in the river I went into the fields, where the villagers were trying to make up for lost time. Because of the fighting, they had been afraid to go out to farm the fields. I watched them work for a while, and had just started toward the river when I heard the metallic sound of hoofs hitting the rocks in the dirt road. Horses were rare in Komjaty; most of the wagons were pulled by oxen and few people in the village kept horses.

Surprised, I turned to see a Hungarian mounted policeman—even more of a rarity in Komjaty. He was dressed in the traditional Hungarian uniform of gray-green flannel, fastened by rows of brass buttons and trimmed in braid. His hard-crowned hat was topped by long black and green feathers from a rooster’s tail, and the hat was held in place by a narrow black leather strap encircling the young man’s clean-shaven chin. He waited for my eyes to meet his before he broke the silence. Am I on the right road for Komjaty?

There is only one road, I said.

I am coming from Salánk, said the policeman, and I have to get back before dark. I was told it was four kilometers.

You must be heading for Big Komjaty, I said, because Little Komjaty is just beyond the clearing. I pointed the way. Can you see it from up there? I was no taller than the horse’s legs.

I was told that people here don’t speak Hungarian.

That is true, but I am from Beregszász, and I am here on vacation visiting my grandmother.

Where does your grandmother live?

Just up the road—the sixth house on the left.

Would you like a ride back? he asked, getting off the horse. Before I had time to answer, his gloved hands gripped my waist and lifted me up the height of the giant horse. He mounted behind me, and resting up against his chest, I could feel his brass buttons and belt buckle through my light cotton dress. He asked me my name, and I told him in a breathless voice, Piri Davidowitz. I was overcome with the thrill and pride of sitting up so high, and anticipated relating the whole experience to my friend Molcha.

Babi, along with a group of villagers, was in the road, watching in awe the unaccustomed sight of a mounted policeman. The scene had created almost as much excitement in Komjaty as the appearance of the first car in Beregszász.

Is everything all right? Babi managed to ask in Hungarian.

Oh, yes, your granddaughter was giving me directions to the police headquarters in Big Komjaty. I am on official business from Salánk. She also told me that she is on a visit from Beregszász. I don’t know if you are aware of it, but the borders are temporarily closed and the trains are not running. Piri’s vacation may last longer than you planned.

Babi took in this information very slowly and then replied, May this be the worst the war brings us. Would you like to have a cool drink of water before riding on?

He got off the horse, lifted me down, and set me next to Babi. Removing his helmet, he saluted her, clicking together the heels of his boots. My name is Wajda, Ferenc, he announced and then added, Yes, thank you, I would like some water.

Babi went into the kitchen and returned with one of her good glasses filled with cold water. She handed it to Ferenc, who drank it down in a few gulps and gave the glass back to her.

Your granddaughter is quite a little lady; I was lucky to meet someone who speaks Hungarian.

Babi nodded. My name is Rosner, Fage.

Ferenc replaced the heavy helmet on his head and mounted his horse. After he left, the villagers walked away, without comment. Frowning with distrust, Babi took my hand and led me into the house.


SEVERAL WEEKS LATER, I was on the porch when I spotted Ferenc in the distance. He stopped at our gate, and I was flattered that he remembered me when I ran up to him.

"Szervusz, Piri, he greeted me. Would it be all right with your grandmother if my horse and I had some water?"

Grandma is out in the fields, but I think it would be all right for me to give you some water. Inside me, I was not certain at all; I had a strange feeling about him and Babi. I could not explain it, but he did not seem to fit in with her life. Babi took up so little space while he needed so much. I felt he could crush her in some way. I tried to hide my fear.

Are you coming on official business again?

Oh yes, I will have to make this trip regularly.

What does official business mean?

I deliver the new rules from the new government.

Taking the water bucket from the kitchen, I ran across the road to our neighbor’s well while Ferenc led his horse to the trough. Tercsa’s water, clearer than Babi’s, came from a mountain spring. As I drew the water bucket up from the well, I looked over into our yard to see Ferenc standing in the shade of one of Babi’s plum trees. He seemed large and rigid under the umbrella of white blossoms. As if reading my thoughts, he suddenly removed his helmet and shook the feathers free of petals. Without his helmet, he looked much younger and more human. He had a handsome face, but his mouth and chin were soft, like a girl’s. I finished drawing the water and returned to our yard, carrying the full bucket. Ferenc took a cupful and asked, Don’t you get lonesome here without friends?

I usually come here with my sister Iboya to help Rozsi, but Iboya was sick so I came without her. Then the trains stopped running and she couldn’t join me.

Has your grandma always lived here?


Then how come she can speak Hungarian?

From visits to us in Beregszász. Again that uneasy feeling about Ferenc and Babi crept up in my stomach. I stopped talking.

Who is Rozsi?

She is my older sister—she is in the fields with my grandmother.

When the horse had finished drinking, Ferenc saluted me again and rode off.

*   *   *

A few months later, Rozsi was picking some snap-dragons near the fence for our Sabbath table. She was singing as she worked, absorbed in the task, when Ferenc appeared on the road. All motions and song stopped at once; I could see Rozsi’s stunned face from the porch where I was peeling potatoes. Ferenc came up to our gate and dismounted. Taking off his helmet, he bowed gallantly in greeting.

My name is Wajda, Ferenc; I am an acquaintance of your sister Piri.

Rozsi remained speechless. I came up to her. Ferenc is the policeman I told you about.

And you must be Rozsika, said Ferenc, adding the endearment -ka.

There was a long, silent pause as Ferenc and his horse continued to stand outside the gate while Rozsi and I remained inside. Finally, Rozsi found her voice and said, You may water your horse here if you like.

I’ll run and fetch water from Tercsa’s well, I volunteered and went to get the water bucket.

When I returned, Rozsi was standing by the trough near Ferenc. She held the yellow flowers in her right hand and stroked the horse with her left. Ferenc was watching her and hardly noticed me when I offered him the water. Rozsi was wearing her holiday dress; its bodice hugged her small chest while the full skirt billowed out from her waist to her slim ankles. Holding her head high, she looked over the horse at Ferenc, and her long, chestnut-brown hair glistened in the sunlight.

They were talking about the effects of the Hungarian occupation on Komjaty. These people will never learn Hungarian, Rozsi was saying. They are Ukrainian and they will always be Ukrainian. There is little room for politics or learning new things in their lives. Their time is taken up just by surviving.

What about you? Ferenc asked. Aren’t you bored by this simple life? Don’t you miss the cinema in the city?

Not really… Rozsi started to answer when Babi came walking through the fields beyond the back of the house. We saw her stop, put her hand over her eyes to shield out the midday sun, and then take the roundabout way to the house through the vegetable garden. It was obvious that she did not want to confront our visitor, and we sensed her annoyance. Rozsi stopped stroking the horse. Ferenc handed me back the cup, took up the bridle of his horse, and led him to the gate.

Would it be all right for me to stop again? he asked hesitantly.

Playing with her flowers, Rozsi answered slowly, Yes, I think so. Ferenc mounted his horse, turning back once before he disappeared out of sight.

As we entered the house, Rozsi and I exchanged looks of apprehension. Babi was in the kitchen, cutting up turnips, and when she noticed us, her knife came down hard on the cutting board. Rozsi picked up a vase from the cupboard and began to arrange the flowers in it. Babi scraped the turnips into a pot, added water, and put it on the hot stove. Then she exploded.

That was a fine picture I just witnessed on my land. If you live long enough, you see everything. I can understand Piri’s befriending one of them, but you, Rozsi, I’m disappointed. I thought you were old enough to know better.

We were only giving him water, I said.

My granddaughters do not have to slake the thirst of our enemy. I had no choice the day he brought you back from the Rika, but Rozsi doesn’t have to pay attention to him.

Just because he is Hungarian doesn’t mean that he is an enemy, protested Rozsi, her face flushed. I felt sorry for her; this was the first time I ever heard Babi speak to Rozsi in anger. I sat down on one of the kitchen

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25 évaluations / 24 Avis
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  • (2/5)
    I've been putting off writing this review because I've been debating on whether to rate it a 2 or a 3. I had thought I had settled on a 3 until I wrote my review and realized that a 2 more accurately portrays my feelings.

    I honestly was disappointed in, first, the execution of the story. I felt like it was bogged down with sooo many extraneous, and very unnecessary details (i.e. we learn all about when one of the characters start their period) yet its missing a lot of, what I thought, are the more important parts of their story (i.e. we aren't told anything about their time in Auschwitz?)

    It left me wishing that the book had a good editor and wondering if it was dumbed down because it's meant to be a kids story or because certain periods of time were too difficult for the author to rehash??

    I also felt like this story was very flat. Even though I do have sympathy for what they went through and endured, I felt like this book did nothing to envoke those emotions from me.

    My son and I read this book together as one of his required 6th grade, Newberry Award and Honor reading books and he didn't enjoy it very much either. It's a difficult book to read, especially for kids, with the Hungarian names and the way the story is written. It's really not a good book to introduce your children to the German occupation and Holocaust. I want my son to really understand what happened and feel something when he learns about the Holocaust and this book just didn't do that for either of us.
  • (4/5)
    A 1982 Newbery honor book regarding the holocaust, this is written about events leading up to the deportation of the author's family to Auschwitz in 1944.Happy and carefree, Piri spends summers with her grandmother in Beregszasz. During 1939 sudden changes occur as it appears the nation is in the debt of Adolf Hitler. Unable to return to Hungary because the borders are closed, we watch as increasingly the slovac nations are swallowed up by Germany.When Peri is able to return to her family, she learns her father is now in the military and destined for the Russian front.There is a slowness throughout the story as day by day, little by little, Germany's Hitler becomes increasingly bent on the destruction of the Jews.Unlike some other holocaust books, this one focuses on events as they unfold, almost in a slow-motion fashion time stands still and then moves a little faster, faster, faster toward the enevitability of destruction.Recommended.
  • (3/5)
    Upon the Head of the Goat is the memoir of a young Hungarian girl who grew up during the beginning of World War II. The story chronicles her life in three locations, which underscore the events in history. She begins in the Ukrainian countryside, where she is open and free with her grandmother, then moves with her mother to the more closed in city in Hungary as events and atrocities begin to intensify, and finally to the ghetto where all of the Jewish families are thrown into close quarters and squalor to await an unknown fate.This book differs from many holocaust era memoirs in that it transpires entirely during the buildup of events, and does not describe the authors experiences in a concentration camp or similar situations. Because of this, it provides a more relatable story for the average reader who can never truly empathize with holocaust suffering.This book does not standout as the most memorable of book I have read of the genre. Perhaps because the author does not seem concerned with time passing as a frame of reference, which makes it sometimes hard to keep in mind exactly how old the author is, or the other characters are in relation to her.The reading level is not too advanced, and it does not aim to deliberately shock the sensibilities, making it an appropriate read for a younger, perhaps middle school level, audience.
  • (3/5)
    Upon the Head of a Goat is a gripping account of the trials of one Jewish family prior to life in the concentration camp. Whereas there are a plethora of books like Night and Maus, this tale did not focus on the horrors of the camp, which we see so very often depicted across every medium. Instead, we glimpse the slow unraveling of their world. As a history teacher, I knew the effects of WWII before, during, and after stretched wide across Europe. A perfect example of this is the television show Band of Brothers, which followed one platoon as they traversed through much of Europe. We can look at Saving Private Ryan, which occurred in France, or Miracle at St. Anna's, occurring in Italy. However, this is wonderful for students in an American History class, a World History class, or even a geography class, where they can get an in-depth look that goes beyond Auschwitz and Dachau. An entirely different perspective, and a fresh glimpse into a topic that should never be forgotten.
  • (5/5)
    Upon the Head of a Goat" would be useful to show students the size of World War II. It is also a narrowly focused book This book concentrates on the author's family from the time just before Germany invaded Hungary up to the point that the family boards a train to a concentration camp. It was interesting to see how life changed in small increments. In the beginning the Davidowitz's were like any other family in their town. However little by little their neighbors pulled away and eventually all of the Jews in the area were moved into a ghetto. There are numerous ways this book could be taught across the curriculum. In social studies students could create maps and timelines. They could also research some of the traditions that were in the book. For English I might compare it with Anne Frank, or In Between Shades of Gray (a story of a Lithuanian family deported by Stalin). The uber-organization of the Nazi's lends itself to numerous math lessons using the Nazi records available online. Students could also attempt to figure the interest on peoples life insurance policies that have not yet been paid, etc.
  • (4/5)
    This book tells the story of a young jewish girls life during the outbreak of WWII. Where many books about the holocaust usally deal with the event inside the camps, this book takes a different approach. Over a 5 year period, we are drawn into her life. Not many of the holocaust books talk in any detail about the lives of the people experiencing this event. We see the author lose her childhood and grow up during this time of great tragedy.To see the day to day life reminds you that thes are people we are reading about, just like us. We are also seeing the point of view of people living in Hungry, a country that alied with and was latter occupied by the Germans. This is also different than many account of the Holocaust from those living in Germany and France, which is what is usally covered by many textbooks and history classes. I would use this book for any high school level course. This is a good way to have students learn about the significance of the holocaust to our modern history. We want our students to know that the things that happened in this book our still happening today in other parts of our world.
  • (5/5)
    “Upon the Head of the Goat” is Aranka Siegal’s first hand account of a young girl’s childhood in Hungary at the outbreak of Word War II. This story spans five years, starting from 1939 with a nine-year-old girl trying to enjoy a normal childhood. While she is visiting her grandmother, the war breaks out and she is unable to return to her family. When she is finally able to return, life in her hometown has changed a great deal. The struggles of her and her family in this period are described, including her mother’s failed attempt to send her to the United States. The book ends in 1944 when the family is forced to a concentration camp. Siegal’s story is gripping, fascinating, and heartbreaking. The book is a hard one to put down. Though it may have been written for a young audience, I find it a good read as an adult. Due to the content and presentation, I would find it most appropriate for a high school student. The Holocaust is a difficult and sensitive topic; it is impossible to talk about with discussing horror, tragedy, and cruelty. It is also an important topic. For one, it is an important lesson in history, one that seems to be repeating itself in the horrific acts of dictators in remote parts of the world. Also, it is a series of events that continues to impact our world. The difficulty comes in how to teach it. Siegal’s story is a first hand account and gives students an idea of what their life would have been like growing up in similar circumstances. Of course, in order to understand the book to its fullest, it would be best for students to have background knowledge on WWII and the Holocaust. I think this would be a very useful resource in a classroom for teaching the impact that the Holocaust had on regularly individuals and families at the most basic level.
  • (4/5)
    This is a very graphic and detailed account of life in a Jewish community during the Nazis take over of Hungary. It is a great book to teach children about family and how important it is to stick together, no matter what. This would be an excellent book to read in a high school history class. As a math teacher the statistics needed for math problems would be time consuming to look up for a lesson. It could be done, but other books are easier to use for math. I have previously read other holocaust books such as Ann Frank, but this book I had never heard of and I am glad I have been exposed to it.
  • (5/5)
    An interesting memoir about a young girl's childhood in Hungary during World War II. I truly loved this book, and would use it in either middle or high school classrooms. The author, Aranka Siegal, is highly qualified to write this book because she wrote about her own experiences. Meant for middle or high school students, this book is an easy, engaging book that gives an alternative view on what life was like surrounding World War II in Europe. Rather than writing a book that primarily took place in a concentration camp, Siegal's memoir focuses on life before Hitler got to Hungary and before concentration camps. It pictured every day life in rural and suburban/urban Hungarian and Ukrainian life. Even the reader can feel the suspense of Hungary's inevitable capture. The format of the book, which is broken into three sections, worked well for the atmosphere of the text because each section was about where Piri, the narrator, was. The book was largely based on the localities of the narrator's family members and friends, tying the importance of each of the book's sections to location. As with other memoirs, there was no glossary, notes, or bibliography was included in this text.
  • (4/5)
    This memoir by Aranka Siegal covers the five years of life from the perspective of a pre-teen Jewish girl up to being delivered to the gates of Auschwitz in the spring of 1944. She and her family lived in Hungary and near-by Ukraine. The unusual focus of this book by a Holocaust survivor is her life prior to being imprisoned by the Nazis. Jews in Hungary managed to stay out of Hitler's clutches, but not his influence, until the May 1944, when the war in Europe had less than a year to continue. Hungary's leader Horthy resisted Hitler's final solution until he was forced out. The Jews in Hungary remained free from round-up, but not from escalating racism and deprivation. Piri's tale of how she and fellow Jews incrementally lost their rights, property, and many lives could be an interesting focus for young readers in discussion groups. Her tale is one of the systematic progressive "dehumanizing" of a group of people. High levels of Nazi officials did actually meet for conferences about how to accomplish the task of making a previously completely integrated segment of their population this group of others who could be despised and robbed of everything. They came up with the plan to do everything in small stages. Piri shared this story from the victim side. It was slow and gradual, with every step seeming survivable. Even at the end at the Brick factory, each family wrapped up their belongings and labeled them carefully so they would be reunited with them in Germany. By May 1944 the Germans knew that most of these Jews who had small children or were too feeble to work would be gassed probably right away. But the Germans set up the ruse about the belongings, because they knew it would keep the Jews hoping for a future and therefore, more controllable. The details of the author's life will be interesting to most young readers and the discussions of how and why her life changed will be mind-opening.
  • (5/5)
    Wow, this book from Aranka Siegal will have you page-turning from the get-go. I have never heard of this book but once I started reading it I was very impressed. It tells the story of a young Hungarian girl, Piri, growing up in Hungary and the Ukraine, where her grandmother Babi lives. She learns the realities of war and anti-Semitism at a very young age, and she is torn in a harsh world that she has no choice but to be in. Her mother tries everything to get her out (even sending to America), but was of no avail. They tried to make do in Hungary but it became too much. She eventually ends up in Auschwitz. I would certainly use this book with discussing the Holocaust to students. I found it much better than the Dairy of Anne Frank. However, I do not know if I’d replace it with Night, which changed my life. Upon the Head of the Goat will do really well with 8th grade, while Night might be more suitable for high school students. Either way, this book is shows an inside glimpse of life in Hungary under Nazi occupation through the eyes of a young and confused girl.
  • (3/5)
    An interesting but slow moving book describing the discrimination of Jews in Hungry. I enjoyed the relating of the family story of how the protagonist coped with her family struggles of capture and death of close family and friends. This book would serve teachers well as a substitute for the diary of Ann Frank which has been used so much that students seem to be immune to the story.
  • (4/5)
    Upon the Head of a Goat is a plainly told memoir of a 9 year-old Jewish girl, Piri, growign up during WWII. The book is broken up into three sections: Komjaty, a Ukranian village, Beregszasz, her Hungarian home, and The Ghetto where her and her family are forced after their city is evacuated. The tone is matter-of-fact. It is not didactic or preachy; it is the tale of a survivor. The memoir spans the years 1939-1944. The book is Aranka Siegal's tale, yet the main character is named Piri. In the photo at the beginning of the book, she identifies all of the family members, however, she lables herself 'Piri.' Why did she change her name? Was it a nickname or term of endearment given to her by her family? Or, perhaps it provides some distance between author and character when writing? Was using her own name too traumatizing, or,in contrast, by using a personal, private family name, was a more personal ora invoked? The story has various themes throughout. One is information or the lack thereof. In the beginning of the book Piri is shielded from truth by her grandmother. Newspapers are hidden from her. When Piri sees dead bodies of soldiers in a river, she inquires about the scene. Her grandmother stalls as long as she can until finally she asserts "They're at peace now." The matter is not discussed further. The complication of sending and recieving letters also plagues the families, and they live in a state of constant uncertainity. The Jewish community relies on itself for news of what is to come, though there isn't much. Whenever a new family enters the ghetto, they are prodded for information. Presently, with a 24-hour news cycle and internet access, it is so very difficult for students to imagine what it is to live starved for information. The characters in the book are so desperate for news of their world and yet, they are denied access. The end of the book is rather abrupt. For readers versed in history, the final page of the memoir is heart-wrenching. There, upon the page, is a word with such unfathomably horrid connotations and images that anyone associated with it is bound to have experienced suffering. In the last paragraph the readers learn that Piri and her family are going to 'Auschwitz.' And while that is basically the end of the book, it is by no means the end of the tale. There is an Afterword that relays what actually becomes of Piri and her family. While I appreciate the firmness with which the Aranka Siegal sticks to the genre of memoir, I grew fond of and concerned about the character and her family. I would have like to know more.
  • (5/5)
    Aranka Siegal’s memoir Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944 is a depiction of her life as a young girl during the World War II era. Known as Piri, Siegal introduces the audience to her experiences of being a Jew living in Europe and having to face the ravages of the Holocaust.She enlightens the reader by providing a full context of the increasing perils which climaxed into the mass killing of Jews during this period. Siegal begins with her time spent with her grandmother and leads in to the beginning processes of war. At this point, few of life’s daily activities were disturb, but such events as the bodies floating down river foreshadowed the coming perils not realized by her and her family at the time. This keeps the reader engaged and wondering if the family will be out of the reach of the German forces. Siegal transitions more and more into the dangers of the time and struggles many felt as a consequence of war. In a brilliant way, the context of this work builds the reader a vivid image of living life in an atmosphere of the unknown and unexpected. It infers that no one could have known or anticipated the severe totality of destruction which would befall upon them. As a resource to teach about the Holocaust, this memoir would be ideal for the reasons stated above. Students would be engaged and enjoy how Siegal narrative would help provide a fully developed perspective of events. One shortcoming would be that the book does not offer leads to other resources that would further expand upon her work and other events of the Holocaust.
  • (4/5)
    I really liked this book. At first I was bored with it. But as I read on I became increasing interested in it. This book, like the one on Marian Anderson, I happen to have auditory stimuli while reading it. I was substituting a U.S. history class and the students were watching a WWII film. So while I read about the Germans and Piri’s story I also was hearing about the Germans and listening to war stories and battle noises. I became more involved in the story. Once they were in the ghetto the story became the most interesting. I was a little disappointment that I didn’t get to know what happened to her in Auschwitz. I would have like to had heard more. I feel a little empty after reading the afterword. I don’t know if I would use this book in any of my classes. I don’t think I would use it for talking about the Holocaust. It could be helpful for showing how people were treated but I don’t know about using the whole book.
  • (5/5)
    Upon the Head of the Goat tells the story of a young Jewish girl, Piri, as she and her family are experiencing World War II in Hungary. Beginning when Piri is nine years old and ending as she is turning fourteen. It begins with Piri in Komjaty visiting her grandmother, Babi. Komjaty is a small farming village in the Ukraine. Piri was sent to help care for her aging grandmother, but was to return to Hungary to begin school, but due to the war, all trains were shut down. Once the trains started running again and after a visit from her family, Piri returned to Hungary. As the war progressed, the story tells of how food began to be rationed, Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend public school, curfews were put into place for Jews, Jews had to wear a yellow Star of David and on until, the Jews were taken from their homes and put into a concentration camp at the edge of town. From there, they waited for weeks in extremely poor conditions for trains, which ultimately took them to Auschwitz. It is here that Piri and her sister Iboya are separated from the rest of their family (her mother and two young siblings) to work in the kitchen and never sees them again. I would recommend for an older group of students. It is a gripping story and a page turner.
  • (5/5)
    Upon the Head of the Goat is the story of Aranka Siegal's childhood in Hungary before and during the Holocaust. Before the German invasion, Piri(Siegal) and eventually her family spent time with her grandmother in a small farming village in the Ukraine. After returning home to Hungary, the family continued living as normal even though Piri's father had been shipped off to war in Russia. Piri and her family begin to realize the changes happening in Beregszasz, and as the Germans occupied Hungary, the family continued to rely on each other. The mother was a true source of inspiration for her children and for others; refusing to sit and wallow in pity for more than a brief moment. The family is eventuall forced to leave their home and stay at an improvised encampment with all the other Jewish families removed from Beregszasz. This ghetto is the final setting of the story as the family waits for the trains to arrive to take them to Germany.This story is very detailed, and Siegal paints a picture of strength and resilience within the Jewish community and even within her own family. Mrs. Davidowitz, like her daughters, is steadfast in her convitions and does all within her power to provide for those who are in need; Iboya and her work with Mr. Shwartz secretly transporting refugees is another example. The last few chapters can be difficult to read due to the reader's knowledge of the events to come; the Germans instructing people in the ghetto to pack and address their belongings because they would arrive on a separate train stood my hairs on end. This memoir a beautiful account of a childhood interrupted by savagery yet plagued by confusion. The commom theme throughout the book is Piri (not unlike the protaganist in Persopolis) does not quite understand what is happening around her and how serious it all is. High school history classes could use the book as an account of the Holocaust and events preceding it, or an English class could read and reflect on the family members, their differences, and their similarities.
  • (5/5)
    This book is an autobiography depicting the childhood and adolescence of Aranka Siegal during World War II. Siegal begins at nine years old, visiting her grandmother’s Ukranian village of Komjaty in 1939 and ends at fourteen en route to Auschwitz. Between these times she spends her days in the urban city Beregszász while time goes by and Hitler advances in power and military presence. The book is more a memoir than autobiography because it does document her life so much as give her impression of it. The reader wonders if certain events actually occurred the way they are presented or if they were rewritten for dramatic effect. While the story is told chronologically, one quickly realizes the difference between its reflective pace versus the in-the-moment autobiographical tone of The Diary of Anne Frank. In general, I felt as though Siegal accurately presented what life was like for a Jewish adolescent whose world was caving in as war and ethnic cleansing overtook her homeland. However, the book does present events entirely from her perspective at the time of the war and the reader might be stimied by her child-like view of what is going on. Unless one was familiar with the history of the war, this book may provide an overly simple chronology of events, telling the reader only of political developments through newspaper headlines and brief adult conversations overheard by Aranka. This makes this book less useful as a substitute for a textbook, but reinforces the first person tone and conveys the shock of escalating repression to the reader. I enjoyed the book's casual usage of Hungarian, Yiddish, and German. Siegal’s presentation of the vocabulary was contextual, and I believe an adolescent reader would have little difficulty understanding what each word meant, though footnotes or a glossary might have been helpful. The overall dialogue flows well within Siegal’s recollection of events, making the memoir an easy read throughout. While most of the story is chronological, Siegal intersperses memories of her earlier childhood in beautifully written fragments whose imagery brings the reader back in time with the author. She uses all five senses to convey an impression of her childhood that is accessible to the reader, from the smell of the refugee-assisting fishmonger Mr. Schwartz, to the less pleasant memory of the sound of the cattle-car door slamming shut as Aranka and her family are leaving for Auschwitz. Overall, I enjoyed the book and felt Siegal’s charming depiction of her family’s city survival until deportation was an accurate description of what life was like for many children of the war. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before I do not believe enough historical information is given to make this book as useful as a history text as it could be. A naive reader may not understand the implications of the escalating persecution and thus miss some of the import of the narrative. Additionally, there are very few positive roles portrayed by Gentiles in this book and in particular by Germans. If Aranka did not encounter these in her life, then of course she should not put them in her memoir, but this does present a rather one-sided view of Europeans at the time that I think would obligate the teacher to more actively counterbalance. As a plus, the memoir does communicate a lot that might not be clear from a traditional lesson, such as the porous and jumbled ethnic configuration of central Europe, or what it might be like to grow up in a family that is rather normal to an early Twenty-first Century American student except for generations of experience with pogroms. If presented within a unit, the maturity of an adolescent reader’s ability to comprehend the surrounding elements of the situation would allow for a more accurate understanding of events and circumstance. I would most likely use this book in a unit on the holocaust for high school students, as a reader any younger may have trouble grasping the impact of the narrative. It is possible that a male student may not appreciate some of the book’s sentiments (the meaning of a ball of yeast, or the significance of Iboya's feminine products being cast out on the floor) as much as a female, though the story as a whole solidly elicits empathy from a reader of either sex.
  • (5/5)
    Piri is a young girl growing up during the time of the German invasion in Hungary. She lives with her mother, older sister, younger brother and younger sister. Her father is a prisoner of war and her mother is doing everything in her power to keep the family together with their spirits up. I really enjoyed reading about Piri and things taking place from her young point of view. I especially liked reading about when the family is taken to the ghetto and how her mother sets up a tent to give them privacy and does little things to make the day to day life more normal and less like an imprisonment. Her mother was a truly inspirational character. I also liked how the book was a snapshot of the events that took place before they were sent to the concentration camps. You rarely hear about the ghettos or what their life was like before the invasion. I really enjoyed this book and think it would be a great addition to any library.
  • (5/5)
    Upon the Head of a Goat tells the story of a young girl growing up in Hungary during the Holocaust. Much of this book takes place before Hungary is invaded by the Germans. As a result we learn a lot about Hungary during this time period before the Holocaust. We learn about the main character, Piri's, family life, interests and her relationship to her religion and her society. Through her travels and stories about place, we get a great sense of physical, and cultural geography of this region. Further, we learn about the terror of the Holocaust through the perspective of the eyes of a character who we have grown to know over a hundred and fifty pages. When entering the second half of the book, titled "The Ghetto" the reader feels a sense of dread. I have read a few books about the Holocaust but this is the first one I have read with such strong character development. I think this would be a great book to use when teaching the Holocaust, but also know that a lot of additional information would need to supplement this book. When I thought about the possibility of teaching this book I thought it might be interesting to teach this book in two different classes. It would be ideal to teach the first section of the book in a Geography course and the second half in a world history or American History class that covers the Holocaust. This would require a lot of planning to remind students of this character and to stay invested in her story. However, I feel that carrying a story through multiple classes allows a personal reference for kids which makes them feel more a part of history and the world.
  • (4/5)
    Aranka Siegal was awarded the NewBerry Honor award for Upn the Hed o The Goat. Aranka tells the story of her childhood as a Jewish girl in Hungary during World War II. In the story, Aranka goes by her Yiddish name Piri. She describes the daily life of herself and her family of how they lived in fear and of her determined mother to protect her family. The front cover includes a picture of Siegal and her family with the dates that the story takes place. A page is dedicated to the victims and the survivors of the holocost. The title comes from Leviticus 16 which is included on one of the first pages. There is not table of contents, index or glossary. The book ends when the family gets on the train to Auschwitz. There is an Afterword that tells the outcome of the family. The book is comparable to Ann Frank's diary. English teachers could compare the two and how they are written. History teachers could make a timeline of both girls and compare where they were and when did they enter the concentration camps. Investigate could their paths have crossed? Reading classes could compare the differences in how each girl lived. I think that the book was very interesting and would have it in my library if I serviced middle or high school students.
  • (5/5)
    A heartwrenching Holocaust memoir, this text stands apart from other books on the topic. Told by Holocaust survivor Aranka ("Piri") Seagal, "Upon the Head of the Goat" vividly details the hardships of the Jewish community in Hungary during World War II. Seagal's unflinching on her family, their hardships, tales of bravery, and their network of friends and neighbors in Beregszasz compells readers to form a deep connection with the characters. Seagal tells the story as objectively as possible, allowing readers to form their own emotions and repsonses. While I believe this text would be very challenging for a middle or high school audience, I think it would be extremely worthwhile. I highly recommend this book as an alternative to reading Elie Wiesel's "Night." I hope to see it on the shelves of every middle and high school library.
  • (4/5)
    Siegal walks us through her childhood experiences of growing up in Hungary during the onset of the Holocaust. After an extended stay with Bapi, Piri returns to her family home in Budapest and finds it changing slowly in response to the German's expansion of power in Europe. The slow escalation of prejudice runs through Piri's tale: we see her worrying about her friends' acceptance of her after she returns from Bapi's to an acknowledgement that the relationships had changed as Hungary became more anti-Semitic. Piri's family experiences difficulty: her step-father's imprisonment in the Russian front, her sister and brother-in-law's forced departure from Hungary, and concern for the health of her niece. Piri's mother attempts to hold the family together, which becomes more challenging as the neighborhood they call home becomes less and less accepting of their presence. Eventually, Piri's family is forced to enter the ghetto, and they depart for Auschwitz. This book could serve as an example of autobiography, as well as a companion piece to a Holocaust unit. I teach Night (Wiesel), and in addition to providing the perspective of a non-German Jew during the Holocaust, Siegal also highlights the female experience.
  • (5/5)
    Upon the Head of the Goat tells the story of an adolescent Jewish girl whose city is taken over by German Nazis. Piri is only nine years old at the start of the book and is sent to stay with her grandmother in the country town of Komjaty in the Ukraine. Due to a civil war between Ukraine and Hungary, she is unable to return home. By the time she arrives back to her hometown, she notices that things are very different in her town. Eventually her family is forced to move into a ghetto located in the town’s brick factory. History teachers can use this book to give students an understanding of the life that many Jews had to live during the Holocaust. Students can also learn about Hungary and Ukraine and see where they are located on a map. Science teachers can have students learn about how much food and water is necessary to keep a person alive. They can study how many calories the prisoners in the ghettos received each day and discuss the effects of malnutrition. English teachers can have students write an essay explaining the significance of the title of the book. Students could also write a poem that would be similar to the poem Piri wrote for her sister’s birthday. They could also imagine themselves stuck in Beregszasz and write letters to family members that are in America or another country. Students can also make a comparison between Upon the Head of the Goat and Night or the Diary of Anne Frank or any other Holocaust book. This book has a simple style and can be read by younger students, but because of the subject matter I would recommend it more for middle school and high school students. The author’s style helps the read connect to the story and keeps the reader interested. The book follows chronological order as the reader watches Piri grow from a nine-year-old child to a thirteen-year-old young lady. It is broken into three separate sections: Komjaty, which is where her grandmother lives; Beregszasz, where her Piri lives with her mother; and the Ghetto, where her family is relocated. There is no table of contents, bibliography, or index. It does not even contain information on the author. The only thing that the book does contain is the “afterword” which explains what happened to her family after they boarded a train. There is one photograph at the very beginning of the book of some of the members of Piri’s family. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Holocaust. The only thing that I did not like about the book was that I was left wondering what happened to the family. I would definitely buy this for my library, and I plan to recommend it to the English teachers at my school who teach Night.