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review 2015-08-25 10:22
A clear-eyed child's view of the Warsaw Ghetto. Stunning Literature.
The Book of Aron: A novel - Jim Shepard

I hesitate to review this. I met Jim Shepard in March and heard him read the opening of 'The Book of Aron' just prior to publication. It was a fantastic delivery of a deeply compelling story. I wondered how it would hold up, this Holocaust story told through a child's perspective, by comparison to Anthony Doerr's 'All the Light We Cannot See,' which I'd read for the purpose of working with that author the same week. (If you're at all inclined to apply for the Sirenland Writers Conference, by all means, DO. It's a big investment in time, travel, and money, but did you just read that paragraph above? Seriously, do it).
Oh my, this novel holds up. I hadn't read the reviews. I didn't even read the blurbs on the back, and I'm grateful to the universe that I was led to this book by entirely organic and encouraging ways... The interviews and jacket copy all ought to have spoiler alerts. I can't believe I got to experience this young boy Aron's life in the Warsaw ghetto as Shepard unrolled it, much like the protagonist, never knowing what would happen when I turned the page. And boy, did I turn them fast.
It's an important book -- a word people sometimes use for a book without humor -- but this one, even in its darkest moments, reveals shafts of lightness and light. And yes, you'll learn something about history, about the Holocaust, about Poland and Warsaw and the Nazi invasion, and power and crowding and the complexities of heroism, jealousy, weakness, hunger, family, and fear. And typhus. And a lot of lice.
Yes, I'm skirting the issues of plot here, and even character... on purpose. Just read it.

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review 2015-01-16 19:37
It is important to read about this awful historic event so that it will never be repeated.
Treblinka Survivor: The Life and Death of Hershl Sperling - Mark S. Smith

The book is repetitive at times, but it is well researched and shows the author’s deep attachment to the Sperling family. Although Mr. Smith’s conclusions are basically only suppositions because few facts are available, he does lead the reader on a logical and straightforward path as he presents a fount of historic information about the annihilation of the Polish Jews, and although he cannot walk in Hershl’s shoes in order to better understand Hershl’s destiny, the author attempts to follow the road he must have taken. This question haunts him in his exploration: Why would someone who worked so hard to survive throughout the war under the most horrific conditions, finally choose to take his own life? Hershl never found a way to adequately deal with or vent his own anger or work out his need for retribution for what Hitler put him through. Was suicide his ultimate expression of anger? The book then begs the question: Did Hitler actually win?

While the memory of the Holocaust continues for the few remaining survivors, the legacy of the Holocaust and keeping its memory alive, falls on the shoulders of their offspring, and it sometimes becomes too great a burden, even for them to bear. Few Jews escaped from either the experience or the memory of the Holocaust.
As I read the book, I was somewhat uncomfortable by what seemed to be the author’s over identification with Hershl’s experience. I began to feel as if it was his travelogue rather than a search for the reasons behind Hershl’s suicide. To me, that seemed to trivialize Herschl’s experience and glorify his own. Then I remonstrated because as a Jew, I thought I should try to absorb the message before I chose to criticize the writer’s style.

Many, including myself, have sometimes expressed the feeling that the topic of the Holocaust has been exhausted and we have read enough about it, but if we give in to our feelings of exhaustion on the subject, how can we expect others of different religions and different cultures to continue to educate themselves about it. Although sometimes I am tired of the subject, I do always discover some new horrifying fact, some new horrifying way Jews were humiliated and abused in every book I read. We, who are not mad, can never understand what was in the hearts and minds of those demented sadists who happily performed their vicious duty to Hitler’s cause, but if we choose to put it in the past and forget, will history repeat itself? With today’s current attacks on Jews it does no seem like such a far fetched idea any longer.

Perhaps these Holocaust books need to be read strictly for the information and historical content, exclusive of the emotional impact, to lessen our own personal exhaustion with the subject. There is always something else out there that we did not know about the genocide’s execution. The Jews in Germany and Poland, wherever, could not imagine what would take place and they let their guard down. Today there is a similar attitude of disbelief and they are often their own worst enemies by supporting causes that are not in their best interests and leaders that could not care less about their needs or standards. We have infantilized our children in this modern generation. They do not have to be responsible for themselves until they are well into their twenties, forget being 15 and separated from all those you love. One has to wonder if today’s young people could ever survive what Jews were subjected to, during WWII.

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review 2014-09-27 22:51
The Nightmare Dance
The Nightmare Dance: Guilt, Shame, Heroism and the Holocaust - David Gilbertson

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

 

This is not a work of fiction; nor is it strictly speaking history. It is an examination of the Holocaust, focusing in particular on Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz and Treblinka.

 

The author starts by noting and condemning young people's – and not only young people's – ignorance of history in general, ("they don't know what they they don't know and therefore confidently believe they have a clear understanding of what went before") and in particular of World War II and the Holocaust. He claims – and I believe him – that almost nobody knows – or cares! – what happened in Poland during WWII.

 

Let me quote: The torment of Poland and the Poles defies adequate description. There is a strong argument that popular historiography in the West, influenced as it was by Cold War prejudice, failed to properly inform generations of students born after 1945 about the true extent of Polish suffering. In the five and a half years between the German invasion in September 1939 and the liberation of Poland by Soviet forces in February 1945, 5,820,000 Poles and Polish Jews, almost all non-combatants, were murdered, worked to death, starved or consigned to the flames. The grisly total represented almost 25% of Poland's 1939 population and far outstrips the sacrifice of any other nation on Earth during the war. [...] The relationship between Poles and Jews during the German occupation, at community level, presents a picture of stark paradox. In Poland as a whole, less than one-tenth of the pre-war Jewish population survived – far less than in any other country in Europe – yet more ethnic Poles risked their lives to save Jews and were subsequently honoured for their sacrifice than in all the occupied territories together.

 

Why was this? It was because Hitler seriously believed that he was going to be able to incorporate Poland into the Third Reich. Indeed, that he already had. This was ethnic cleansing on the grand scale. The vast new territory was to be racially pure. The extermination camp at Treblinka, of which we hear almost nothing because there were almost no survivors to bear witness, processed (gassed and incinerated the bodies of) 10,000 people a day. 10,000 people a day, month after month, year after year. And that was just one camp! Auschwitz, Majdanek, Chelmno and others, were not far away.

 

Here is a map, to put you in the picture. (It is not from the book.)

campsmap

Just look at that border ...

 

David Gilbertson has put an enormous amount of work into this book. It is a book that everyone should read, but what with those who already "know it all" and those – the vast majority – who do not care, very few will. And so, inevitably, at some point in the not so distant future, history will repeat itself ...     

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review 2013-05-16 00:00
The Last Jew of Treblinka: A Memoir
The Last Jew of Treblinka - Chil Rajchman It's hard to say you 'liked' a book like this...one of the most powerful books I have read regarding the treatment of Jews in the eastern regions during WWII. Rajchman's graphic telling of his year-long experience in the Treblinka death camp is a shocking testimony.

You can purchase this book at:
http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9781605983424-0
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review 2012-06-01 00:00
Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory, 1942-1943 - Chil Rajchman,Vasily Grossman,Samuel Moyn Treblinka is less infamous compared to Auschwitz. The main difference between the two is that Auschwitz was a work as well as an extermination camp but on the other hand, Treblinka was solely an extermination camp. Nobody that arrived at Treblinka survived more than a few hours, as they were gassed immediately. So, after the war, there were very few eyewitnesses who could recount the horrors of Treblinka. This is the reason why Treblinka didn’t surpass the infamy of Auschwitz. Only Jews that were able to survive death on arrival were those who were assigned to dispose off any traces of the corpses. Chil Rajchman was one of them.

‘Treblinka: A Survivor’s Memory’ is the most harrowing account I have ever read of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the concentration camps. And I should mention the fact that there were even Ukrainian guards (144 of them) along with the SS (100 numbers) at Treblinka who “ran” the camp.

So, why should anyone read this piece of history that might give them nightmares for a very longtime? Renowned Russian war reporter and writer Vasily Grossman lays it very aptly:

It is the writer’s duty to tell the terrible truth, and it is a reader’s civic duty to learn this truth. To turn away, to close one’s eyes and walk past is to insult the memory of those who perished.
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