Holocaust books tell tales of healing

A wise Sunday school principal told me this, years ago, when I complained about how little time there is between Purim and Passover to prepare children for the latter: “Don’t limit yourself. Passover is so important to our people, you must teach it all year, then celebrate it when it comes.” I hope our religious schools do that.
I also hope they — and we — appreciate the fact that the Holocaust is also with us year-round. We commemorate it on Yom HaShoah, which soon arrives again. But we must remember it, and teach it, always. A good way is to read some of the many books that deal with this incredibly important, horrifically unfortunate part of our Jewish history.
I also hear people complain: Too many Holocaust books, they say. But they’re wrong, because not everything has been said. And all will never be said – just as there is, and will be, no end to the teaching of Passover. There should be, and will be, more. Not every book will be quality, but all deserve to be read, because they tell truth in many ways. Every Survivor, every child of a Survivor, everyone with a Survivor grandparent, has a different story to tell. We must encourage all of them to get every single one out for us to read and learn from.
Not all such stories are “true” in the same way. Some are honest, quite literal biographies, but many are very different. I applaud two remarkable novels that deal with the fallout of the Holocaust for two very different individuals, in two very unusual ways. These stories are fiction built on imaginings of possible Holocaust realities.
The first is a new one: “Secrets and Shadows” by Roberta Silman. The second was published seven years ago: Evan Fallenberg’s “When We Danced on Water.” The title of the second is more than a bit ambiguous and gives the reader something to mull over even when the reading is done.
The author, an Israeli, imagines and fleshes out the meeting of a young Israeli woman who made a dreadful error during her army service, something that has caused her prolonged unhappiness. A budding artist, she works in a coffee house, and there meets and gets to know an old man, once a dancer and choreographer, who emigrated to Palestine as soon as he could after World War II, during which he silently suffered horrors that Fallenberg describes in word pictures to make one’s blood run cold.
The title of the first hides nothing. A young man, now a successful American, endured and survived the Holocaust as a child. But he has carried a secret with him for years, something he could never reveal until the fall of the Berlin wall forced him to rethink his past and confront the need to unburden himself before guilt destroys his life. To do this, he seeks the help of his ex-wife, knowing that his secret is what caused the destruction of their marriage.
Both of these writers are masters of their craft; when readers reach the ends of their tales, all the “clues” planted in the pages before re-emerge to complete the puzzles of healing for both the old dancer and the tormented young man. It is the healing aspect of both these novels, the truth that – at least for some – when Holocaust memories are confronted head-on, when secrets are finally revealed, there is no forgetting, but there can be healing.
Perhaps healing is what is most important about all Holocaust writings, fiction and not. That’s why such writing should be encouraged, even from those who are not recognized and honored writers like Fallenberg and Silman. The stories help their authors heal themselves and others, so please do not downplay their importance. And above all, please do not say “Enough, already.” There will never be enough said about the Holocaust, just as we will never stop telling the story of our Exodus from Egypt.

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