Interview with Barbara Krasner, author of FACING THE ENEMY

Barbara Krasner‘s new verse YA novel FACING THE ENEMY: HOW A NAZI YOUTH CAMP IN AMERICA TESTED A FRIENDSHIP (Calkins Creek, 2024) follows teens Benjy and Tommy through the demise of their friendship when Tommy attends a Nazi youth camp. The beautifully crafted novel in verse explores a dark history of events in the US. Seeing these events through the lens of teen friendship is both compelling and heartbreaking. I’m interested to learn more about the story from Barbara.

Was the story of Benjy and Tommy inspired by true events?

The camp was real, the Newark Minutemen were real, certainly Weequahic High was and is real. Benjy and Tommy are fictional characters positioned against the backdrop of Nazism in America, and particularly New Jersey, antisemitism, and oncoming war. During my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (2004-2006), while working on a novel based in my father’s North Jersey hometown, I began to wonder how a Jewish kid might feel if his best friend of German descent attended Camp Nordland, how that would affect their friendship.

Barbara Krasner

When did you learn about the Nazi Youth camp you describe in FACING THE ENEMY?

I started researching Camp Nordland by at least 2005, maybe earlier. Because my family immigrated to Newark from Russia, I was interested in Newark history and came across Warren Grover’s book, Nazis in Newark, originally published in 2003. 

Can you share a bit about your research process for this book? 

Sure. Around 2014, I visited Hillside Park in Andover, a public park now on the former grounds of Camp Nordland. I met with a representative of the Andover Historical Society. At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Metrowest (NJ), I combed through the boxes of files Warren Grover donated. During COVID, I also used the Congressional Record and FBI files online and hundreds of newspaper articles through and the New York Times. I spoke with Warren and he vetted my manuscript.

Did you ever consider using your research to write nonfiction? Did you ever consider writing it in prose?

No, not really. My editor wanted me to write the story in verse. Verse gave me a way to show Tommy’s transformation to and from Thomas and to present the conflict between the two boys on a single page through strategic use of space.

Thank you, Barbara.

Barbara Krasner is an award-winning author of novels in verse and short fiction. Her previous novel in verse, Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems (Calkins Creek, 2022) won the 2023 Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers, Grades 7-12. Her most recent novel in verse, Facing the Enemy: How a Nazi Youth Camp in America Tested a Friendship (Calkins Creek, 2023) is a Junior Library Guild selection. Barbara has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a PhD in Holocaust & Genocide Studies from Gratz College. She lives and teaches in New Jersey.

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