By Harriet P. Gross
Today we sit squarely between Yom HaShoah and Israeli Memorial and Independence Days.
The last two are certainly not unrelated to the first. Without the Holocaust, Israel might not have needed a day to remember the many who fell in its defense. It might not have become an independent nation at all.
Which is to say that I’m not as afraid of those who deny that the Holocaust happened — we know they’re certifiably crazy — as I am of Jews who believe that because it’s so far in the past, we should give up the Holocaust and “move on.”
I review a lot of books these days, and find many Jews who are not ashamed to say they don’t want to read, or even hear about, another Holocaust-themed book; some insist they’ve had enough Holocaust altogether. I wouldn’t be so concerned if they were expressing unhappiness, even fright, over the horrors those memories reawakened. But what they’re actually saying is they’re “tired” of the Holocaust as a topic in today’s literature. That’s what concerns me.
I maintain that even a cursory glance at current writings will prove that if you eliminate Holocaust tales and references from your Jewish reading list, there’s not much left to choose from. It’s everywhere: in fiction and nonfiction, in history and biography and memoir, in plays and poetry. We can’t get away from this theme, even if we want to.
Why should we want to? Decades after the world went mad in so many ways — ghettos, camps, cruelty and killings, and feigned ignorance that taught us how yellow the stream of human cowardice can run — how can we permit ourselves to run away?
The books accumulate in my office, overflowing shelves, piled on tables, chairs, the floor. I cannot possibly do justice to them all. But I’ll offer you a sample here. New publications and new translations, all fresh and raw despite the age of their subject matter:
“The Wedding in Auschwitz,” by Erich Hackl. The Austrian novelist is inspired by the true story of Rudi and Marga Friemel, who married in 1944, a union that survivors considered “a victory — a proof that we were still alive.”
“Selfless,” by David Michael Slater. This novel could be a modern Jewish “You Can’t Take It With You,” with the tale-teller’s scheming and teasing sisters and his father, the plagiarist writer. The author’s comedy is not funny when he injects some Holocaust survivor grandparents into the mix.
“Chance Encounter,” by Sanford R. Simon. He was a business writer before creating this post-Holocaust fiction, contrasting and analyzing the mindsets and actions of an assimilated American Jew and a Gentile German banker, while trying to trace relatives lost during World War II. Are they really so different?
“A Lucky Child” is the memoir of Thomas Buergenthal, who survived Auschwitz and its infamous death march as a boy of 10. His book is graced with a foreword by Elie Wiesel, who begins by asking about this belated storytelling, “Are there rules to help a survivor decide the best time to bear witness to history?”
“Penguin Luck,” by Kay Mupetson. In her novel, this corporate lawyer of many years’ experience creates a much younger alter ego, a small-firm attorney who is visited by Holocaust ghosts relentlessly demanding that she must “carry on for us.”
“Kiss Every Step,” by Doris Martin. Her entire Polish family, parents and five children, somehow survived the Holocaust. The former Dora Szpringer says that although this fact alone is amazing, “What is more remarkable is how we survived.” Here, her siblings help tell the story.
“Run for Me Too,” by Neva Gould. This historical novel fulfills the long-ago promise of one survivor, now a retired physician in Chicago, who gives voice to the victims of the Croatian town in which she grew up.
These are my “lucky seven” books of the moment — lucky because they’re the products of people who lived long enough to write their own stories, or were written by people who cared enough for those already gone to tell their stories for them.
Please read, and please think. Please say “Never again!” rather than “Enough already!” At our recent seders, all of us came out of Egypt together once more, a yearly passage. But now, we Jews must acknowledge coming after the Holocaust, all together, every day of our lives. We’ll do our best “moving on” by remembering, and making the world move with us.