When I was a small child, one of the books I remember borrowing a book about a little girl who got a new coat from the library. It was a story that stayed with me as a child and I remember loving the book, but I hadn’t thought about it in years. The book, A New Coat for Anna, tells the story of a little girl dealing with post-WWII life in the Netherlands and her mother’s efforts to get her a new coat.
As an adult, rereading the book is a jarring experience. Anna’s mother had to give up a gold watch, which must have been a valuable heirloom and which had survived years of war, just to get the wool for a coat. She has to give up other things too, like a lamp, a necklace and a teapot, to ensure Anna has the coat she needs.
More than that, the book shows that war doesn’t end when the powers that be sign an armistice. Children grow and need warm clothing. Mothers who’ve carefully hoarded family treasures weigh up what they might be worth. People with skills trade them for necessities.
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I’ve been thinking about Anna’s red coat because of the iconic scenes in Schindler’s List, where a tiny girl in a red coat wanders around the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. And I’m thinking about all the children who today have grown out of coats and are dealing with war and its effects and their mothers who are trying to decide whether now is the time to trade a precious family object for the necessities of life.
I wish Anna’s red coat was a purely fictional book about a time long ago that we’re glad never happened today, but sadly whenever humankind has said ‘never again’ this hasn’t come to pass.