In Honor of Yom Hazikaron leShoah ve-leG’vurah (Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and Heroism) most commonly referred to as Yom HaShoah, our International MA students in Holocaust Studies have compiled a list of the Holocaust books they found most thought-provoking, impactful, and moving. From the philosophical to the purely historical, here are ten recommended, non-fiction and fiction books to read today.
1. Our Holocaust, Amir Gutfreund 2006
Translated from the original Hebrew and written by a second generation Holocaust survivor, ‘Our Holocaust’ shares with the reader the difficulty, confusion, and heartbreak of growing up in a family with survivor parents.
By lying we kill again*
Four years ago, I wrote a rather personal entry for this blog entitled Holocaust Studies vs. Mental Health. Back then, I was a student of the second cohort of the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies. The first semester ended and I felt overwhelmed by the difficult topic with which I had decided to engage.
The entry was partly humorous, (if nobody else then my Mom laughed for sure), and partly serious, (it was a really tough period in my life, I thought), where I tried to grasp how studying the Holocaust influenced my life. All Holocaust scholars know that humor can sometimes save you from madness and despair.
Polish historian Jan Grabowski is concerned about the future of Holocaust research in his native Poland, in the wake of its controversial Holocaust law.
The new bill states that “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”
Speaking at the Centre of Organisations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, Grabowski warned: “If you’re a student of history or a journalist, are you really going to want to dig into these issues if you’re going to lose your work, your grant or your possibility of promotion?”
Jordanna Gessler, a graduate of the Weiss-Livnat International MA program in Holocaust Studies and now the Director of Education at Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, tells The Times of Israel why Holocaust studies matter…
In 1927, a boy named Elek was born in Belsko, Poland. He was born to an upper middle-class family, had two younger siblings, dozens of cousins, and enjoyed accompanying his mother, Deborah, to Vienna to see concerts and the opera. He had a very happy childhood. He spoke German at home and Polish in school, and he liked to play catch with his friends. He had a good arm. On the holidays, he went to synagogue and always remembered that his mother made the best gefilte fish. For his bar mitzvah, he received a potato. It was 1940 and the Germans had already invaded, World War II had broken out, and the Holocaust had begun. At that time, he did not know that he would never see his mother again. This was something that he never got over. He never forgot his mother, I would know. He was my grandfather.
On the occasion of his 90th birthday and after plenty of “noodging” from the family, Holocaust survivor Catriel Fuchs finally decided to commit his amazing story to paper. Now 92, Catriel has written and published his autobiography, which, loosely translated, is entitled More luck than judgement.
“But don’t go rushing to the next book store,” he jokes, “because only ten copies exist. They contain the memory of my murdered family, of my youth, and are dedicated to my family, of course, and to my seven great grandchildren, aged from two-and-a-half to 13. One copy is in Yad Vashem.”
In 1995, Hannah M. Lessing took the helm of the Austrian National Fund, an institution entrusted with Holocaust recognition, restitution and remembrance. At the time, her father, himself a survivor, was less than impressed with her decision to turn her back on a successful banking career. His response? “Can you give me back my childhood? Can you bring back my mother from Auschwitz?”
“That’s when I decided to do it, with the knowledge that we cannot turn back the hands of time, that we cannot repair anything,” Hannah explains. And true to her word, she approached the then President of Parliament and asked for the job.
Every year, Yitzhak Livnat would proudly welcome the new cohort of students and share his remarkable story of survival. He did so “in a very authentic way”, his son, Doron, tells us. “My father was always very genuine and very honest.” Sadly, Yitzhak passed away in March 2017, and so, Doron now carries the torch in his father’s honor.
Cohort VI joined Doron, together with his wife Marianne, at the Yitzhak Rabin Centre for a tour of the Israeli Museum. After all, Yitzhak Livnat was a devoted Zionist and his story, just like Rabin’s, is deeply entangled with that of the birth and development of the State of Israel. The perfect setting, then, in which to remember a dear friend of the programme.