I am a writer, a reader, a lover of words on the printed page. The bookshelf in my office is filled to bursting with Holocaust-era memoirs, words put to paper to document the horrors and atrocities of the past. Each shelf has a row of books lined up neatly, but above each row are horizontal stacks of books crammed into every available inch. The shelves are bowed from the strain of holding up the books. Above the bookcase, next to a pair of windows, hangs a painting, Luna Park.Read More
The Holocaust destroyed European Jewry. Its memorialization and representation have been studied, but the objects that refugees took with them into exile, survivors brought with them from the camps, ghettos and killing fields have received only scant attention. Ordinary things and objects have stories and meanings for different people, past and present. They “continually assert their presence as simultaneously material force and symbol. They frame the way we act in the world, as well as the way we think about the world.” Some objects have artistic and monetary value. Others are memorabilia. Artifacts of the Holocaust are what remains. Artifacts like these are not souvenirs but remnants. Nostalgia is invariably a mournful memory or what the scholar Svetlana Boym has called reflective nostalgia, a remembrance that is predicated on a deep rupture, and takes the past as a mournful subject to which one cannot return. They are the debris of violence - not objects of longing but of fear and hold traces of dissociated, dislocated and often destroyed lives. They are the remains of the destruction and ruination of European Jewry.Read More
It was Friday evening, the 28th of March 1969. And as they had done for over one hundred years, the Jews of Tyler, Texas had once again come together to light the candles of Shabbat.[i] This spring evening, however, was different. Because on this night a torah scroll, lovingly recovered from war-torn Czechoslovakia, would be welcomed into their community. Though auspicious, the scroll itself was physically unremarkable: a pair of plain 40 inch wooden rollers, wound with animal parchment, lettered in traditional black square Ashkenazi script, held together with sinew and glue. Roughly 120 years old, the scroll was housed that night in the ark of Congregation Beth El. Harvey Wessel, Beth El’s third serving rabbi since 1887, described the Wolf Holocaust Scroll as “a newcomer from a foreign land, seeking refuge and a permanent new home in Tyler.”
In late November 1944, the Soviet army intensified its heavy military attack against Budapest. At this point in history, the German army and the Hungarian Nationalists ruled Hungary. Our family was hiding under false names, hoping to survive by avoiding discovery, identification, and execution by the men of the Arrow Cross.
At the same time, we and everyone else in Budapest were being exposed to the Soviet attack against the city. By Christmas 1944, the bombing and shelling was going on day and night. The battle for Pest ended three weeks later, with the arrival of the advancing Russian troops.
On January 17, 1945, the Hungarian and German armies collapsed, and in Pest, the Russians took over. (The battle for Buda lasted another four weeks.) At this point, my parents, my brother, and I were hiding in the bunker of a so-called White Cross Hospital, together with some eighty Jews. We survived. On this day of liberation, around 10 a.m., the shelling and bombing stopped. After a while, twelve Russian soldiers arrived in the shelters, searching for ammunition. While they didn’t find the arms they were looking for, they started to chase after people for their watches. “We are Jews, we are Jews,” several tried to tell them. But this statement made no great impression on the newly arrived soldiers, who took whatever they could from the Jews who had been hiding there. After robbing them all, they opened the doors of the bunker, which had been closed for some six weeks.Read More
Miklós Radnóti, the great Hungarian poet, was killed in the Holocaust. On the day that Jews were forced to wear the yellow star in Hungary, he wrote the following poem. (Translators: Zsuzsanna Ozsvath and Frederick Turner)
In the Gibbering Palm Tree
The gibbering palm tree
is where I’d rather be,
earth body shivering,
heaven soul cowering.
I saw a mountain
Higher than Mt. Blanc
And more Holy that the Mountain of Sinai
On this world this mountain stood.
such a mountain I saw—Jewish shoes in Majdanek….
Hear! hear the march.
Hear the shuffle of shoes left behind—that which remained.
From small, from large, from each and every one.
The wheels they drag and drag on,
What do they bring, and whose?
They bring along a wagon
Filled with throbbing shoes.
The wagon like a khupa
In evening glow, enchants:
The shoes piled up and heaped up,
Like people in a dance.