Author Spotlight - Ella Burakowski Cohen Canadian Author Superstar
May 30, 2017
On the 20th of May I had the pleasure of making contact with Ella Burakowski Cohen, a fellow author who is doing some wonderful things in the realm of reading for Young Adults in the Great White North, (Canada for those of you who may not be familiar with this term). Ella recently received honours at the Ontario Library Associations' Forest of Reading Awards on May 16th. Her book Hidden Gold - A True Story of the Holocaust was a finalist in the Red Maple non-fiction category. With over a quarter of a million students helping to choose the winners from the best Canadian authors and illustrators of our time, this was a huge honour for Ella and inspirational reason why I wished to feature her in today's Author Spotlight. Ella provides some wonderful insights into the realm of reading and offers an eye-opening perspective to one of humanity's darkest times- the Holocaust - which I am certain you will all enjoy reading.
Author profile section:
Country of residence: Canada
Favourite hobbies: Writing, walking, audio books
Favourite song: Impossible to pick just one, but I love 70’s and 80’s rock and roll as well as good jazz.
Favourite movie: Toss up between Pulp Fiction and Forest Gump
Favourite Colour: Pink
A place you enjoyed visiting recently: New Orleans, Louisiana
A place you would like to visit one day: Italy
About your book:
Title: Hidden Gold – A True Story of the Holocaust
Many of my readers are European based and may not necessarily know of your work. In light of this, what inspired you to become an author and how long have you been writing books?
The story of how I ended up writing Hidden Gold is an uncommon one. I actually wrote it by accident and had no intention of writing a book when this journey began.
In the fall of 2010 with the harsh Canadian winter fast approaching, I decided to take a Continuing Education course to get me out of the house at least one night through the dark cold evenings. With Photoshop, Life Drawing and Pottery not available in my area, I was left with Creative Writing.
One of our first assignments was to write a dialogue. I knew my mother, her siblings and my grandmother were hidden in a secret cramped enclosure of a barn for over two years, and it always astonished me. I often wondered what they spoke about being together with no outside stimulus, starving, freezing and wondering if they would survive, for over two years. So that’s what I chose as my first dialogue – a conversation in that hiding place.
When I read it aloud to the class, they were fascinated and wanted to hear more. At the instructor’s request, all the rest of my assignments, were about my family’s experiences during the war.
That was the beginning of how Hidden Gold evolved into a book.
How did you come up with the idea for your book?
My uncle David, my mom’s brother, had been looking for someone to write his memoir for a number of years, but never quite clicked with anyone. I knew if I could write our family’s story for him, it would make him so happy. Originally I had planned to write it as short story, but as I wrote every morning from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. before I left for work, the words poured out of me.
It was very moving for me as well, since my mother died when I was 14, long before I ever had an opportunity to discuss with her how she survived the Holocaust. By writing Hidden Gold I was learning all about her. By the time I was done, I had walked in my mother’s shoes through the darkest time in her life. I felt her strength, I felt her courage and I felt her fear.
Signing after award ceremony
Can you provide readers of this article with a short synopsis about your book and to what age ranges it would appeal to?
Due to the difficult subject matter, the publisher, Second Story Press, wanted to target the book to grades 7-9. However, Hidden Gold has proven to be a book that can be read by students in grade 5 & 6 as well as adults. It’s about how love overcomes evil, it’s about the resilience of the human spirit and the power of family. In fact, The Christian Science Monitor deemed Hidden Gold one of ten young adult books worthy of adult readership. Christian Science Monitor
Here is a bit about the plot of the book:
Twelve-year-old David and his older sisters Shoshana and Esther find their peaceful lives shattered when Poland is invaded by Nazis during WWII
It’s 1942, and the Nazis are rounding up Jews in small Polish towns for transport to the Treblinka death camp. Leib and Hanna Gold feared this day would come, but they thought they had more time to develop an escape plan for their family. While Leib goes to finalize arrangements, Hanna and their children, Shoshana, Esther, and twelve-year-old David, steal away in the night to hide with a family friend. Leib has promised to join them in the morning, but when daylight comes, Leib has vanished. Hanna must find a safer refuge or she and her children will perish.
So begins a true story of terror, suspense, and deplorable hardship that lasts more than two years. In a place where everyone is afraid, neighbors turn on neighbors, gentiles betray Jews, and Jews victimize each other, hoping to survive the Holocaust. All the while, the Nazis grow more determined to implement Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Photo Opportunity with fans
Tell us about your main characters.
The main characters in Hidden Gold are the Gold family.
Hanna the mother, Leib the father and the three children Shoshana, Esther and David. Hidden Gold is a true story of one family’s struggle to survive during the Holocaust.
Hanna, the matriarch finds herself separated from her husband Leib and on the run from the Nazis, with her three children. They end up in hiding for over 2 years in a tiny secret compartment of a barn. Hanna is smart, brave and bold. She keeps a level head at all times to ensure her family’s safety and keep them together. Even though she is separated from her husband Leib, she never gives up hope that one day soon they will all be reunited as a family.
Shoshana, is the eldest of the three siblings, born in 1919. Since Shoshana spoke German and Polish perfectly and had blue eyes, Leib and Hanna asked her on various occasions to come out of hiding and possibly save them from death. Her Slavic look and perfect dialect made her the ideal decoy to pretend she was not a Jew.
Esther, born in 1921, the forever optimist, was always able to find the positive no matter how dire their situation was. She was not squeamish and was therefore the one who could deal with delousing her mother, brother and sister on a regular basis while in the barn.
The book begins with David’s birth, born in 1930. David is a brave, mischievous child, who is forced to grow up quickly and take over the role of the man in the family. Even though he was a young child, he took his job of protecting his mother and two sisters very seriously.
Tell us about the photos you included in your book.
The photos in the book and on my website are historic photos of my family as well as historic photos of that period of history (1927-1945). Among them is a photo of my uncle at the age of 12 wearing the Star of David armband that the Nazis forced all Jews to wear so they could be easily identified.
There are also photos of the people from my family’s town of Pinczow in Poland being marched to the transport trains, which were taking them to the Treblinka death camp. I’ve often wondered if any of my extended family are in those photos?
Lining Up to get an autograph
What do you think readers will find most appealing about your book?
I wrote Hidden Gold as narrative non-fiction. It is a page-turner written to keep you on the edge of your seat. You will get to know each character’s personality and you will feel what they felt. You will see, hear and smell what they did and you may even feel their desperation, fear and despair as it seemed like they were going to lose their battle with the Nazis and with their minds and body. Without even realizing it, readers will be learning about one of the worst times in history as they follow the Gold family through each step, from their idyllic lives before the war, to complete loss of everything material they worked so hard for. Readers are put into the moment with each of the characters and will cheer and cry for the triumphs and tragedies along this historic journey.
What do you hope readers learn from your book?
I had one goal in mind when I wrote this book originally for the generations of my family, it was that this story and this period in history be carried on from generation to generation.
As the last of the survivors, the eyewitnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust are dying off, there will be no survivors left to speak for themselves. They will need each and every child to learn and to speak for them. Like the passing of the Olympic torch, it’s up to the coming generations to keep this part of history alive. As anti-Semitism continues to grow, as intolerance, racism, and cruelty are staples in our daily news, the words “Never Forget – Never Again” are more important than ever.
What other books have
I have not written any other books. Hidden Gold is my first book. However I have been writing an advice column for The Canadian Jewish News for the past 22 years. It continues to be published on a monthly basis.
You have not seen the last of me though. There will be another book sometime in the future.
Are you currently working on any other writing projects?
My writing projects vary, as I mentioned in the answer above. I will add, that I continue to meet with kids in schools, libraries and even adult groups and each and every presentation is personalized and tailored to suit the group I am discussing the difficult topic of the Holocaust with.
One of the main objectives of this blog is to provide valuable advice to both parents and children with respect to promoting healthy reading habits. Do you have any words of advice to parents who may have children who do not readily look to picking up a book to read?
This is a topic near and dear to my heart.
I found out quite by accident when I was well into adulthood, that I was an auditory learner. That discovery opened a whole new world for me. It was at this late time in my life that I discovered books.
I was never interested in reading, as I’ve always read slowly causing my mind to wander. As a result, I never retained the information I was reading. Fast forward a few decades and suddenly I can’t get enough of books.
An interesting fact I learned as I wrote Hidden Gold was, once I was done writing my manuscript, the only way I knew if I liked my own book was to listen to it. Imagine….I couldn’t even “read” my own book.
The point of this is, that there are many ways to enjoy reading. If kids don’t want to read conventionally, then listening is a great option. These days Amazon and Audible also offer Whispersync where you can switch between reading and listening with the simple tap of a button or even listen as you follow the words in the physical book.
So my advice to parents is, there are many ways to encourage your children to read. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to think outside the box.
Do you have any suggestions or tips to children when they are choosing a book to read?
Kids should read about subjects they’re interested in. When I was a kid I chose my book by the number of pages it had, the size of the type and the number of photos in the book. That’s no way to choose a book. You have to be interested in the topic and the look has to appeal to the young reader as well, which is why graphic novels are doing so well today.
Children should read anything. If it’s not a book, let it be a short story, or a comic book or video game instructions. Just read anything and everything.
How may people reading this post get in touch with you?
I can be reached easily through my website or any of my social media links. I promise to answer each and every person who reaches out to me.
I certainly hope you enjoyed reading this article. I would like to extend my thanks to Ella for taking the time to answer my questions and providing such a unique perspective about both the Holocaust and the realm of reading. In the short time that I have come to know Ella, I have found her to be a kind, humble and warm person with much to teach from her story. We have both learned that we have much in common and our passion for providing quality reading material to the children and young adults of today is second to none. As mentioned in my previous articles, I derive no monetary commissions for these articles I post. I publish these articles to help support others who write books - to get their stories out to my followers and to keep alive the need and drive of ensuring that our children, who are the future of this world, keep learning, reading and opening their minds to the wonder and stories that are provided for them. It is through these stories that their minds and imagination can be motivated and influenced to provide a better tomorrow. If you haven't already obtained a copy of Ella's book, I'd encourage you to do so, today!