As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, I thought it was high time I read a particular book that has been in my library for almost thirty years: The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert (1986).
There are a number of reasons why I haven’t tackled it until now: I know the subject from many other books; it’s a daunting read by page-count, let alone the subject matter; I have so many unread books on the shelves anyway.
Now, however, the time seems poignantly appropriate, as we detect a rise in nationalism, extremism, hate and disconcerting political vacuum within present-day Europe.
So, over the next week or so I may refer to this book as I work through it.
Among other books I’ve read relating to the Holocaust are:
Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally (1982). Winner of the Booker Prize. A best-selling narrative non-fiction work, Keneally gets into the skin of characters both good and evil. And of course Spielberg’s heart-wrenching film Schindler’s List was the result.
The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas (1981). Short-listed for the Booker Prize. At the time I was studying psychology and as this novel was ostensibly about Sigmund Freud and his patients, it seemed logical to read it. Thomas is foremost a poet, and this is evident from his language. The tale begins with Freud’s female patients’ erotic fantasies but then descends into the Holocaust which is harrowing and leaves the reader numb.
I Will Survive by Sala Pawlowicz (1962). I read this in 1965 and it lingers with me still. An excellent review is on Amazon UK by Russell Fisher, and this is an excerpt from that review: The final page of 'I Will Survive' illustrates the dignity and humanity of this remarkable woman: 'I cannot find it in me to spend my life condemning the Germans. I do not forgive them for their treatment of me and my family, but I have found too much in the world to love. There is no room in my heart for hate. Rosie is our hope for the future. We try to make her feel wanted, as we ourselves finally came to feel we were wanted. We try to make her understand the sacredness and dignity that is human life. If she is instructed well, then the world will indeed be happy with us.'
Ashes to the Vistula by Bill Copeland (2007). When I wrote a review of this in 2008, I began: ‘Over the years I’ve read a number of Holocaust books, fiction and non-fiction, yet no matter how much you read about this period, thankfully you can never become inured to the horror. Perhaps I thought that there was nothing new to be said about this important yet horrendous subject; but I’d be wrong. Because despite the evident inhumanity displayed by several individuals, what shines through is the powerful humanity, the will to survive, the will to serve fellow men and women, no matter what the risk.’ Bill was a poet, too and this was his first published novel; it won multiple awards. It is a story about two boys that are taken to Auschwitz and forced to overcome great trials together despite the hardships that they already face. Bill died in 2010.