Tag: Holocaust Memoir

Recent Wintry-December Reading

The school term came to a close with exams and a tradition of “winter games”. I was assigned to supervise a vigorous round of musical chairs to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” which I like well enough, until I hear it for the umpteenth time to accompanying squeals of adolescent enthusiasm. Still, it was nice to see young people off their phones and having some “old-fashioned fun.” As old-fashioned as reading, I guess.

I read three books in an attempt, quite successful I might add, to avoid grading essays. Hurrah. (If ChatGPT is going to end the “essay,” I say bring it on…maybe English class can be reading books. What could be better?)

I desultorily read three books. December is a low-energy month: winter is settling in, I have endless anxiety about what my commute will be like on any given day (snow, sleet, freezing rain, or arctic temps alone or in combination). The books were good, none enthralling; weather, appalling. I’ll have to let these titles settle before any final verdicts, but, for now, here are initial impressions of:

Menachem Kaiser’s Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure

Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha At Last

Robert Harris’s Enigma (more…)

Reading Ruth Kluger’s STILL ALIVE: A HOLOCAUST GIRLHOOD REMEMBERED

Still_AliveKluger’s Still Alive is a remarkable book and I thank Dorian of the Eiger Monch Jungfrau blog for bringing it to my attention.

Like most girls of my generation, I read and reread Anne Frank’s Diary (the expurgated version, sadly) in grade six. It led, for years, to more reading about the Holocaust. Until now, however, I’d never come across Kluger’s memoir. It is superb, harsh, and unforgettable. Like Anne, Kluger speaks of a difficult relationship with her mother; unlike Anne, Kluger’s memoir recounts her life at Theresiensenstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Christianstadt. We don’t know what Anne thought and felt when she was betrayed and brought to Auschwitz: there are accounts, I don’t remember where I read them, that Anne despaired, lost hope (how could one not?), but we are not privy. Her diary remains, as my students would say about any book they enjoy, “relatable”: I’m not damning with faint praise, simply acknowledging the universality of the adolescent experience she recounts, despite her unusual circumstances. Anne is not alien to us, attested by my still calling her by her first name. Kluger’s, on the other hand, is an alien experience, but it is her voice that washes over us and takes over, a dominant, indomitable voice. It is, as Kluger insisted about every Holocaust survivor, unique to her, to her individuality, a singular experience: this was a thread I noticed, an insistence on rejecting any uniformity in writing the Holocaust. She is writing, she would insist, not as a historian, but as an expression of herself. I understand her insistence on not “romanticizing” the Holocaust, not museum-fying it, placing it in “amber,” her way to assert the self. And yet, there are moments where she is weighed down by the history she carries, by her struggle never to be defined and yet, acknowledging she is defined, not so much by a monolithic history, but by time, place, and a monumental absence, of those who did not survive.
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