Holocaust Remembrance Day

From Jack Levison:

[Two] books are must-reads in light of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), which extends from Sunday evening until Monday evening, April 27-28. What these books do so well is introduce us to otherwise unnamed people who endured the Holocaust. The Family, which begins near Vilnius, Lithuania, exposes the quotidian lives of Jews caught between the power play of Russia and Germany. Riveting descriptions of people simply keeping life afloat during the Soviet and Nazi occupations are staggering in their simplicity; Laskin’s choice of details is uncanny. With a facial expression or snippet from a letter, he captures the mood of a whole village, maybe even an entire nation.

The Zookeeper’s Wife, centered in Warsaw, Poland, features heroic individuals who risked — and forfeited — their lives to rescue others. Ackerman takes us to the heart of darkness, but always with specks of light, like the Fox Man, a Polish fur grower who supplied fur to the Germans for soldiers on the Russian front. “Eccentric” hardly describes the Fox Man. When he came to live in the zoo, he could be found asleep on the floor, “as if fatigue simply overtook him and he hadn’t the energy to lurch a step farther” (191). Then, one night, at 1 a.m., he started to play the piano. He played through the night. Turns out he had been a professional pianist.

Rachmaninoff at midnight. A speck of light in the heart of darkness.

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