Holocaust anthology provides insight for readers, therapy for writers

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 Marking Humanity: Stories, Poems & Essays by Holocaust Survivors, Toronto, SoulInscriptionsPress.com, 2010, 312 pages, ISBN 978-0-9864770-0-3.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO –Canadian journalist Shlomit Kriger has brought together the reflections, stories and poems of nearly 50 Holocaust Survivors in an anthology that covers many aspects—and emotions—of the Shoah.  Marking Humanity could serve as an excellent secondary textbook in either a college class or in an advanced high school history class.

I suspect the reason that I received this volume for review is that an excerpt from a book written by Garry Fabian, Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World, is included in this work.  Fabian had been one of approximately 150 children to survive Theresienstadt at the end of World War II, with an estimated 150,000 juveniles having been through that so-called “model” ghetto before being transferred to the death camps.  He went on to become chairman of the very active B’nai B’rith in the Australian state of Victoria.

Fabian makes a point about memoirs that “outlines become blurred, facts recede into the distance and it is difficult to recall events with any degree of accuracy.”  Nevertheless, he says, it’s important to set down an account as accurately as possible so that future generations can “know about the events that took place during a time of global upheaval, on a scale never before witnessed in human history.”

One should recall Fabian’s caveat when reading the various memoirs. An event may have occurred in a plaza that a writer remembers as having been at a train station.  Another event that someone might have associated with Passover really might have occurred around Shavuot.  When movie producer/ director Steven Spielberg agreed to finance the filming of thousands of interviews of Holocaust survivors, these kinds of little inaccuracies were anticipated.  The thought was that from many interviews with Survivors, events down to the level of towns and neighborhoods, can be cross referenced and a consensus developed.

More so than to the familiar accounts of Nazi Germany’s mechanized program to destroy our people, I found myself drawn to those works in the book that spoke to the adjustments that Survivors made to life after their liberation.

“The Brownshirts Are Coming” by Fred M.B. Amram is an electrifying nightmare story melding the experiences of living in a post-war, roach-filled tenement with the experiences of being hustled by Nazi soldiers from his home and onto trucks.  

“The Table” by Louise Lawrence-Israels recounts the pleasure the author felt obtaining the dining room table around which her parents had so often hosted Shabbat dinners before the Holocaust.   Being able to serve her own Shabbat dinners at the same table—to have a family dining together again in a Jewish context—was a source of great comfort to her. 

“The Invitation” by Pete Philipps is a hopeful story of a Jewish family and a German family bridging their memories and forming a friendship. 

“A Headstone in the Air” by Manya Friedman tells the writer’s feelings when seeing in Georgia a headstone under which had been transported a third of the ashes of the remains of Jews of Alem, Hanover.   Her own family had gone up in smoke in a crematorium.  Unlike the families of those people whose ashes were now in Georgia, their only cemetery was in the air.

“Belonging” by Susan Warsinger told of the time because of her advanced pregnancy she decided to take the elevator, instead of going up the stairs, at the Executive Office Building in Washington.  To her surprise—and that of his guards—inside was  President Harry Truman, who greeted her in friendly fashion and wished her good luck with her baby.  After coming through the Holocaust when she and her fellow Jews were treated as non-humans, having the President himself treat her so nicely convinced her she had found a home in America.

“Memories for Our Hearts: Farewell Thoughts on the Occasion of Joe Brenig’s Death” by Gunther B. Katz is the kind of story of faith that our columnist colleague, Rabbi Baruch Lederman of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego, so enjoys retelling in his column:   Two survivors met and started talking. One told the other he had been saved by a French organization that placed children in the homes of Christians.  The last time he saw his father, he recalled, was when his father was putting him on a bus.  The father momentarily held his son back, held his hands over his head, and gave him a blessing.  This so affected the guard that he momentarily left his post to weep against a wall.   “That was you!” said the other man excitedly.   He explained that when the guard turned away, he himself had sneaked onto the bus—and to life!

These stories, and the others,  all have intrinsic value. In addition, Kriger who combines her journalistic enterprises with social work, instructs that they also have a therapeutic value for the writers.  Even as she has brought together homeless people in a writing project portraying their inner and outer worlds, so too has Kriger by means of this volume provided our Survivors with an opportunity  to “achieve some level of release and healing through the creative process.”

I congratulate editor Kriger, my colleague Garry Fabian, and all the others who participated in this worthwhile project.  I’m pleased to relay the promise that some proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Holocaust museums

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

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