April 2021 – As antisemitism rises again in our culture, Joy Lucius is taking a stand against it with her young adult historical novel, Priceless Pennies: Rose and Odette. Lucius told AFA Journal how God’s providence led her to write a book that challenges students and adults to honor victims of the Holocaust by preventing history from repeating itself. Rose and Odette is a story that must be told. These girls have a message, and Lucius is their messenger.
AFA Journal: What led you to write Rose and Odette’s story?
Joy Lucius: It began June 27, 2019, when Diane and Ken McNeil visited AFA. I met the McNeils early that morning as they pulled into our staff parking lot. Later, I would find that moment providential.
AFAJ: How so?
JL: During their visit, I interviewed Diane about her work with Unknown Child Foundation near Memphis, Tennessee. Diane told me about two middle school teachers who had their students collect pennies – one for each of the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust. It took over three years, but they collected those pennies with the help of the entire community. Unknown Child Foundation was formed to house all the pennies.
AFAJ: How did that lead to your book?
JL: Diane’s passion for this project was contagious, so I made an appointment to visit the Unknown Child Holocaust exhibit. I learned more about the foundation’s plans to build a children’s Holocaust memorial. Then later that day, I met with a local children’s author, told her about my meeting with Diane, and suggested she write a book about it all. She did not respond, but I did hear that quiet and still Voice speak to me: “Maybe you should write this story, Joy.”
AFAJ: How did you respond to that Voice?
JL: I laughed nervously and immediately began to concoct a mental list of excuses, but His voice was persistent. I began researching online about children of the Holocaust. One of the very first images that popped up on my computer screen was a picture of two precious little girls named Rose and Odette Aboulafia who were murdered at Auschwitz in 1944. I printed off their photograph and put it in my purse.
AFAJ: Then what happened?
JL: A few weeks later, I traveled upstate for my appointment with Diane to tour the Holocaust exhibit. Our private tour ended, and someone realized that they had forgotten to turn on the museum soundtrack – a solemn recitation of over 250 names of the 1.5 million Holocaust child victims. One of the guides got the recorder so I could hear a short portion of the soundtrack. Just as he stepped into the exhibit where we were standing, the sober soundtrack began: “Rose Aboulafia, 1932 to 1944; Odette Aboulafia, 1936 to 1944.”
I screamed, “Stop! Stop! Stop!”
Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Then I fumbled in my purse to find the Aboulafia sisters’ photo that had been haunting me for weeks.
AFAJ: What were you thinking at that point?
JL: We were absolutely in awe. Out of 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust, Rose and Odette were the first (and only) names I heard on the soundtrack that day.
Though I felt unworthy, God called and compelled me to write their story, to be their messenger, to do my part in keeping antisemitism at bay. Now, I can’t let go of these precious girls, for Rose and Odette have captured my heart.
AFA will be publishing Priceless Pennies: Rose and Odette in the coming months. Watch for updates in AFA Journal. See a related feature in AFA Journal, 1/21.