Today is April 1, often called “April Fools’ Day.” But we Jews are not fools – no longer to be taken in by outside lying promises, or even by our own inside desires to believe that what we’d like to see will happen, even when we can be sure it will not. Today is one week before our own country’s official Holocaust “Day of Remembrance,” to be marked next Thursday, April 8. The week of April 4 through 11 will be full of appropriate nationwide activities.
What can we as individuals do during this time, throughout that week, and even continue on long afterward, to remember the Holocaust and its victims ourselves, and to personally honor its survivors? The simplest thing of all: We can read!
There are many, many books appropriate for reading during this special time of memory. Whether you prefer history, biography, fiction — whether you choose prose or poetry — this is the time to read, and remember. Here are a few possible, very appropriate, choices:
History: “My Opposition: The Diary of Friedrich Kellner, a German Against the Third Reich.” Readers have called this book “a reminder that not all Germans under the Third Reich were Nazis…some managed to retain a sense of decency and human values…” Published by Cambridge University Press in 2019; priced at $17.85.
Memoir: “When Time Stopped…My Father’s War and What Remains,” by Ariana Neumann. Readers say “An extraordinarily moving story; she brings the lost world of her relatives murdered in the Holocaust to vivid life.” Published by Scribner in 2020; priced at $28.
Letters and Poetry: “Dancing on a Powder Keg” by Ilse Weber. Readers say “The letters and poems get under your skin.” Published in 2016 by Bunim and Bannigan, Ltd., and Yad Vashem. Priced at $34.95.
A Classic: “The Drowned and the Saved,” by Primo Levi, one of the world’s best-known survivor writers. Readers say “The triumph of reason over the barbarism of genocide.” Published by Summita Books in 1985; priced at $17.95.
Religion: “Things We Couldn’t Say,” by Diet Eman and James Schaap. The book’s brief prolgue sets the scene for a conversation we are having in our own country today: “We always come back to the same point: ‘The church may not mix in politics,’ he says. And I tell him that when you are a Christian, and profess that God is almighty, there is no single area of life from which you can eliminate God.” Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994; priced at $18.99.
And there are so many others! You can’t go wrong by picking up anything by Elie Wiesel, originally a reluctant writer who — once he started — became spokesperson for an entire generation. Or simply rereading Ann Frank’s personal writings, published as “Diary of a Young Girl.” Or getting acquainted with the poetry of Nelly Sachs in her Nobel Prize-winning book, “O the Chimneys.”
The main thing is to read! And as you read, remember that one of the first attacks of Hitler’s Nazis was not on people, but on books, because books carry the history of the world and the opinions of people who have shaped that world. So, it is quite right to say that one of the best ways to remember the Holocaust, and to assure that those who perished in it will always be remembered with honor, to affirm that such a time will never happen again, is to read — what they wrote, and what others have written about them. And never to forget that it was once a crime in our own country to teach a slave to read…
Harriet Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.