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
About the Author
Aranka Siegal's Holocaust novels are based on her own experiences as a child. She lives in Miami, Florida.
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.
Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions for Upon the Head of the Goat
1. When we study the Holocaust, much of the focus is on the atrocities in the concentration camps and the numbers of people murdered. Less is said about the lives of the people before the invasion of the Germans. In Goat, Aranka Siegal tells us about her life before the war. Discuss the ways her life was the same as yours.
2. Tradition for the Davidowitz family and for most Jews is an essential part of their identity.
Piri: I had once asked Mother about the neat little ball of dough she always saved from her Friday baking and tucked inside a flowered tin box for the following Friday. She had answered, "I brought this tin box with me from Komjaty when I first moved to Beregszász. My mother gave me a ball of her growing yeast to take with me. She got her original ball of dough from her mother. This way the bread we bake stays the same for generations."
"Are you going to give me a ball of the dough when I get married?" I asked.
"Of course," she had answered. [pp. 141–42]
What does the ball of dough represent? If you were going to start a tradition for your family, what would you pass down?
3. In 1939, the Davidowitz family is living side by side with its Hungarian neighbors in Beregszász. When they visit Babi, Piri's grandmother, in Komjaty for the Passover seder, Babi advises Piri's mother: "Rise, you are fooling yourself. You are living among goyim and you think they are your friends. I just hope you never have to depend on them. They are neighborly, but there is a big difference between neighbors and your own. Only your own can feel your pain." [p. 30]
Is Babi being cynical, or is what she is saying correct? When things changed for the Jews, how did the Hungarian neighbors act? What parallels can you find in American history?
4. The day before the Davidowitz family is hauled off to the ghetto, Piri gives Ica Molnar her most valuable possession, her phonograph. Ica's eyes plead, "I did not mean to cause you harm." [pp. 147–48]
What harm does this refer to? Was it something that she did, or something she didn't do? Ica is about fourteen years old. Should we overlook Ica's actions or inactions because she is still a child, or should we hold her to the same standards as those for adults?
5. Talk about anti-Semitism as it became systemized in Hungary -– from not allowing the children to go to school, to requiring Jews to wear the Star of David, finally to deportation. How did it affect the Davidowitz family and their Jewish and Gentile neighbors? How did the Davidowitz family cope with each stage?
6. In the spring of 1944, Hungarian police come for Piri and her family. They refer to a census list to make sure every family member is accounted for. As each name is called, it is crossed off with a thick black line. Discuss the symbolism of this act.
7. Many Jews in the ghetto were taken there without being allowed to bring any possessions or had their possessions seized from them upon arrival. Iboya offered to help a woman with no provisions get blankets for her and her child. "You will have a mitzvah," the woman blessed her. [p. 155]
A mitzvah is an act of pure goodness, big or small, done with no expectation of reward or thanks. You don't have to be Jewish to perform a mitzvah. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a mitzvah? Have you ever done something that would be called a mitzvah?
8. Talk about the different people in Goat. Who is the most interesting? Which one has the most vitality? Which character is most like you or your friends?
9. Piri felt sorry for Judi. She [Judi] had been misled by her liberal upbringing to believe that she did not have to live by restricting rules. She had been taught she was a Hungarian, but now found out she was a Jew. Her false security was crumbling and she had no identity to hold on to. [p. 206]
Is this a necessary pitfall of assimilation? Does assimilation have to strip you of your ethnic or religious identity?
10. Government inspectors came to the Davidowitz home and confiscated Ladybeard, the family's goat and only source of milk for the children. Piri asks her mother what they would do with Ladybeard. Mother responds, "Send her into the wilderness with their sins, I suppose." [p. 100]
Mother's answer is a reference to the Bible, Leviticus 16, and the origin of the term "scapegoat." How were the Jews of Europe like Ladybeard? Why did the Germans and their sympathizers make them scapegoats? Do we still blame the troubles of society on groups of people, making them scapegoats for our own shortcomings? Explain.