Upon the Head of the Goat Essay - Critical Context

Aranka Siegal

Critical Context

Like most stories dealing with this period, Upon the Head of the Goat depicts humanity’s inhumanity while showing individual acts of caring and extreme courage. The book’s validity comes from the solid detail of personal experience provided by the author. This book, like all those presenting the Holocaust, requires some maturity of its young readers. Its general lack of sensational detail and its positive characters make it accessible to the reader who is just beginning to learn about the Holocaust. In addition, its concluding question about Auschwitz and the afterword may lead the reader to further exploration of the treatment of the Jewish people. Although the story of persecution during the years from 1939 to 1944 has been told many times, Siegal’s telling is intimate and interesting, serving as a strong reminder that this story needs to be told repeatedly.

Siegal’s exposure to varied cultures, including her concentration camp experiences, led her to obtain a degree in social anthropology and to present a series of radio shows featuring vignettes of Eastern Europe. These experiences, in turn, became the basis for Upon the Head of the Goat. Because of length considerations, however, the book incorporates only a small portion of Siegal’s childhood memories. Siegal has written a sequel, Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation, 19451948 (1985).

Upon the Head of the Goat found much critical acclaim. In 1981, the book won the Janusz Korczak Literary Competition for being the book for young readers that best exemplified selflessness and human dignity. It was selected as a Newbery Medal Honor Book in 1982 and, in that same year, received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for nonfiction.