April 24, 2003
New Releases Keep Shoah an Open Book
"The secret of redemption is remembrance," as a sign announces in Israel's Yad Vashem, an institution dedicated to remembering the Holocaust. Books, too, are in service of memory, inspiring readers to think again and anew -- and to fight forgetfulness. As Yom HaShoah approaches, the call to memory resounds.
Despite the many thousands of books on the subject, there's still much about the Holocaust that hasn't previously been written about and published. This season, there are important new works by scholars analyzing newly available material, journalists uncovering little-known episodes, artists with new interpretations, survivors telling their own stories for the first time and more.
In "Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust" (Yale, 2003) scholar Nechama Tec, who is herself a Holocaust survivor, tackles a topic that has been rarely discussed: the effects of gender on experience during the Holocaust. Through interviews conducted over a decade, she analyzes patterns of behavior in terms of women's and men's self-esteem and coping strategies.
"Even though the Germans were committed to sending all Jews to their deaths, for a variety of reasons women and men traveled toward that destination on distinct roads," Tec writes. Recognizing that gender is a complex and sensitive issue, she looks at the issue from different vantage points and in various settings. She finds differences between how people reacted in the ghettos and concentration camps and those fighting in the forests, as well as social differences in each setting. She explains that those in the upper classes had "farther to fall" and seemed to have a harder time enduring constant humiliations.
Some anti-Jewish measures were gender specific. She shows how for many men, ruthless assaults led to the loss of their abilities to perform their roles as providers and protectors for their families, and also to their becoming demoralized and depressed. Many women, used to being in supportive roles, began to take on some of the traditional male roles with their families, as well as with people in the larger community.
The author of several award-winning books on the Holocaust and a professor at the University of Connecticut, Tec is a member of the Council of the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
"Holocaust: A History" by Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt (Norton, 2003) is a remarkable work, a detailed and scholarly one-volume history that's highly accessible for general readers. The authors, who previously collaborated on the award-winning "Auschwitz," place the Holocaust in the context of European history and are mindful of the stories of individuals. Included are 75 illustrations and 16 original maps.
Dwork is the author of "Children With a Star" and a professor of Holocaust history at Clark University, where she is founding director of their Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Van Pelt, who was born in Holland, is professor of cultural history at the University of Waterloo and author of "The Case for Auschwitz."
In his eighth book on a Holocaust theme, Sir Martin Gilbert presents inspiring stories of Christian and Muslim people -- farmers, priests, soldiers, diplomats and other extraordinary "ordinary" people -- in every occupied country, who risked all to save Jews from deportation and death. "The Righteous: The Unsung History of the Holocaust" (Henry Holt), draws on 25 years of research. In these true stories, "righteous acts testified to the survival of humane values and to the courage of those who save human life rather than allow it to be destroyed.... Six million Jews were murdered, but tens of thousands were saved."
The author, a historian and the official biographer of Winston Churchill, is the author of eight books on Holocaust themes. This is the first to focus on altruism. Gilbert quotes Abraham Foxman, who was saved as a child by his nanny in Vilna, "Even in hell, even in that hell called the Holocaust, there was goodness, there was kindness, and there was love and compassion."
"The Hidden Life of Otto Frank" by Carol Ann Lee (Morrow, 2003) is a penetrating, robust biography of the man turned into a legend by the publication of his daughter's diary. The author breaks new ground in naming the man, a member of the Dutch Nazi party, who betrayed the Franks and their friends in 1944. The book was published to much acclaim and controversy when it was released in the Netherlands last year, and since then, Lee has gotten new information, included in the American edition. The English-born author, who previously wrote a biography of Anne Frank, lives in Amsterdam.
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring to light the story of the largest maritime loss of civilian life during World War II, when the Struma, a ship filled with Jewish refugees with hopes to get to Palestine, exploded on the Black Sea, near Istanbul. About 800 people were killed in this little-known 1942 episode, including more than 100 children. One man survived; he is one of the sources in the compelling, well-written narrative, "Death on the Black Sea: The Untold Story of the Struma and World War II's Holocaust at Sea" (Ecco). The authors piece together the facts, and also recount recent attempts to locate the Struma at the bottom of the sea, a search initiated by the grandson of two victims. An appendix lists the names and ages of the victims. Frantz is the former Istanbul bureau chief for The New York Times, now investigations editor for the newspaper, and his wife, Collins, has covered Turkey for the Chicago Tribune.
In 1941, when 16-year old Lena Jedwab left her Bialystock home for summer camp in Russia, she expected to return in a few weeks. But that was not to be, and she was stranded, separated from her family, after Germany invaded the former Soviet Union. "Girl With Two Landscapes: The Wartime Diary of Lena Jedwab 1941-1945" (Holmes & Meier, 2002) is the diary she began keeping that summer in a children's home, translated from the Yiddish by Solon Beinfeld, with an introduction by Jan T. Gross and a foreword by Irena Klepfisz. The book is a powerful document by a young woman of intelligence, enthusiasm and moral strength, with much to say about themes of home and exile, as well as daily life. The author, Lena Jedwab Rozenberg, now lives in Paris.
The title, "Here There Is No Why," Rachel Chencinski Roth's memoir (translated from the Polish, with a grant from Yad Vashem), is Dr. Joseph Mengele's response to the author and millions of others. The book is the fulfillment of a promise the author made at Maidenek, when she told a young friend she would tell the world of the horrors they experienced. The daughter of a journalist, she writes of her teenage life in the Warsaw Ghetto, her participation in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and her transports, along with her aunt, to several concentration camps.
The themes of the Shoah are taken up artistically by Judith Weinshall Liberman, who has just published a collection of her work, "Holocaust Wall Hangings" (Schoen Books, 2002). The artist was born in then-Palestine in the '30s, and aware -- as much as a teenager might be -- of the Holocaust as people close to her were losing loved ones. In 1947, she moved to the United States to pursue her education, earned four university degrees and chose to pursue her artwork after lecturing and writing about law. Since 1988, she has been creating art, mostly on fabric, with a Holocaust theme, and many of her works are exhibited in the United States and Israel. She uses color expressively, although in limited ways, and also employs embroidery and beading, and repeated imagery like boxcars and views of Anne Frank. Included are essays by art historians and curators and explanations of each color plate.
Back in print, after Imre Kertesz won the Nobel Prize for literature are two of his novels, "Fateless," his first and perhaps best-known novel about a Hungarian Jewish boy's experiences in concentration camps and after the war, and "Kaddish for a Child Not Born," the story of a Holocaust survivor taking stock of his life in middle age, both translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson (Hydra/Northwestern University Press).