Holocaust Remembrance: A Reading List

To commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), we have assembled a reading list of titles from our series, The Holocaust: History and Literature, Ethics and Philosophy, as well as memoirs of those who survived the Holocaust. Read on for excerpts and some open access content, freely available on JSTOR.

The First to be Destroyed: The Jewish Community of Kleczew and the Beginning of the Final Solution
A. Glowacka-Penczynska, T. Kawski, and W. Medykowski
Edited by T. Horev

The Jewish community of the city of Kleczew came into existence in the sixteenth century. It remained large and strong throughout the next four hundred years, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it constituted 40-60% of the total population. The German army entered Kleczew on September 15, 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II. The communities of Kleczew and the vicinity were among the first Jewish collectives in Europe to be totally destroyed. The events presented in this book reveal that the organization of deportations and the methods of mass murder conducted in this district, by Kommando Lange, served as a model that would be applied later in the death camps during the mass extermination of Polish and European Jewry. If so, it was in the woods near Kleczew that the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” began.

Saving the Tremors of Past Lives: A Cross-Generational Holocaust Memoir
Regina Grol

The Jewish community of the Polish border town of Brzesc (Brisk in Yiddish), which had numbered almost 30,000 people, was wiped out during the Holocaust, with only about 10 of its members surviving. One of them was Masza Pinczuk, who escaped from the Brzesc ghetto on the eve of its liquidation on October 15, 1942. Her future husband succeeded in escaping from the Warsaw ghetto. They were the sole survivors of their respective families, and in this volume their daughter, Regina Grol, shares their story and meditates on the legacy of the Holocaust, exploring the lingering impact of the Holocaust on the following generations. Based on interviews and letters, and checked against historical facts, the book includes supporting documents and photographs. It also contains an account of the author’s “internal flanerie” (to use Walter Benjamin’s term), i.e., a retrospective and introspective look at her own life as a child of Holocaust survivors.

Bo, Jenny and I
Huguette Herrmann

Bo, Jenny and I is a memoir describing the life of a young woman growing up in unusual circumstances, as well as a discussion of political and sociological effects of troubled times upon “ordinary people.” After an early childhood in pre-war Antwerp, the author, her formidable grandmother, and her young, unconventional working mother fled to England in 1940, upon Germany’s invasion of Belgium. As refugees, the family adapted to its changed circumstances and to life in World War II England. The political upheavals of the times are reflected in the life of this small family and its remarkable experiences.

Gone to Pitchipoi: A Boy’s Desperate Fight for Survival in Wartime
Rubin Katz

This poignant memoir describes the survival of a Jewish child in the hell of Nazi occupied Poland. Rubin Katz was born in Ostrowiec Swietokrzyskie, Poland, in 1931. At the time this town, located in the picturesque countryside of central Poland 42 miles south of Radom, had a population of nearly 30,000, of whom more than a third were Jews. The persistence of traditional ways of life and the importance of the local hasidic rebbe, Yechiel-Meier (Halevi) Halsztok, as well as the introduction of such modernities as bubble gum, are clearly and effectively described here. This memoir is remarkable for the ability of its author to recall so many events in detail and for the way he is able to be fair to all those caught up in the tragic dilemmas of those years. It is a major contribution to our understanding of the fate of Jews in smaller Polish towns during the Second World War and the conditions which made it possible for some of them, like Rubin, to survive.

Shadows of Survival: A Child’s Memoir of the Warsaw Ghetto
Kristine Keese

After sixty years, Kristine Keese is finally able to share the memories of her years spent in the Warsaw Ghetto as a small child. She owes her survival, and that of her young uncle, to the striking resourcefulness of her mother. The story emerges as vividly as if it happened yesterday, full of details that only a child would notice. Although the the events of the Warsaw Ghetto and the fate of its victims has been described many times, Keese’s story is exceptional, as it is told through the eyes of, not a victim, but a child engaged with her daily reality focused on survival.

A Partisan from Vilna
Rachel Margolis

A Partisan from Vilna is the memoir of Rachel Margolis, the sole survivor of her family, who escaped from the Vilna Ghetto with other members of the FPO (United Partisan Organization) resistance movement and joined the Soviet partisans in the forests of Lithuania to sabotage the Nazis. Beginning with an account of Rachel’s life as a precocious, privileged girl in pre-war Vilna, it goes on to detail life in the Vilna Ghetto, including the development of the FPO and its struggles against the Nazis. Finally, the book chronicles the escape of a group of FPO members into the forest of Belarus, where Rachel became a partisan fighter. Rather than “keep house” back at their bunker like other female partisans, Rachel demanded assignments to active duty alongside the men. Going on military assignments, she burned down a bridge, blew up railroad tracks, and helped bring in food supplies for her fellow partisans. The book opens with an introductory essay by renowned historian Antony Polonsky.

Jewish Ludmir: The History and Tragedy of the Jewish Community of Volodymyr-Volynsky: A Regional History
Volodymyr Muzychenko
Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta Daria Olynyk
With an introduction by Antony Polonsky

This volume is a brief history of the Jewish community of Volodymyr-Volynsky, going back to its first historical mentions. It explores Jewish settlement in the city, the kahal, and the role of the community in the Va’ad Arba Aratsot, and profiles several important historical figures, including Shelomoh of Karlin and Khane-Rokhl Werbermacher (the Maiden of Ludmir). It also considers the city’s synagogues and Jewish cemetery, and explores the twentieth-century history of the community, especially during the Holocaust. Drawing on survivor eyewitness testimonies, the author pays tribute to the town’s Righteous among the Nations and describes efforts to preserve the memory of its Jewish community, including the creation of the Piatydni memorial, and lists prominent Jews born in Volodymyr-Volynsky and natives of the city living abroad. This book will be of interest to historians of the Jewish communities and the Holocaust in Ukraine, as well as to the general reader.

The Müselmann at the Water Cooler
Eli Pfefferkorn

A survivor of concentration camps and the Death March, Eli Pfefferkorn looks back on his Holocaust and post-Holocaust experiences to compare patterns of human behavior in extremis with those of ordinary life. What he finds is that the concentration camp Muselmann, who has lost his hunger for life and is thus shunned by his fellow inmates on the soup line, bears an eerie resemblance to an office employee who has fallen from grace and whose coworkers avoid spending time with him at the water cooler. Though the circumstances are unfathomably far apart, the human response to their situations is triggered by self-preservation rather than by calculated evil. By juxtaposing these two separate worlds, Pfefferkorn demonstrates that ultimately the human condition has not changed significantly since Cain slew Abel and the Athenians sentenced Socrates.