Yes, every day someone publishes a new Holocaust book. Yes, we already know the worst and the worst beyond that. Yes, the heart and the mind can stand only so much. One day we will be ready to go on, to let history bind the wound, but not yet. Now, at the end of the 20th Century, we are still documenting, remembering, honoring, uncovering. We remain stunned and we cannot turn away, not while the last survivors speak, not while there is still history to be recovered, words to be heard.
Dr. Adina Blady Szwajger's memoir of the Warsaw ghetto, "I Remember Nothing More," is a significant and powerful book adding to our historical knowledge and emotional understanding of the Jewish Resistance. She was 22 years old, about to complete her medical training, when the Nazis invaded Poland. She joined the staff of the Warsaw Children's hospital and remained there till the last days of the ghetto when she escaped to the Aryan side and became a courier for the Resistance, bringing money and papers, arranging apartments for hidden Jews, dealing with extortionists, betrayers and Nazis.
After the war, she became a prominent pediatrician in Warsaw, and now, in her 70s, she tells us of things she can hardly bear to remember. With directness, honesty, with a certain artless quality, where events unfold and rush ahead and pause where the feelings become too large for speech, she tells about the starving children whom the staff at the hospital could not feed, about the tubercular wards on which every patient died.
She describes the staff efforts to do rounds, to practice medicine in a situation where to save a child meant to condemn him to a different death. She describes her colleagues, breaking down, going on; the typhus, the scarlet fever; the children putting on plays hours before deportation. At great cost to herself, she describes giving lethal injections of morphine to the elderly who could not move, to dying babies, as the Nazis arrive to clear out the hospital. Later, she performed abortions to save the lives of women in hiding.
She tells us at the end of the book the memory that has weighed down on her all the rest of her life. She gave a lethal injection to an old woman who was running in the Warsaw streets, speaking Yiddish and so threatening to betray a household of hidden Jews. We understand. We do not judge. We would hope to have had her courage to do the same.
She describes her Polish friends and enemies in a city become hostile and dark. She tells us how they drank vodka to tolerate the nights and how they loved one another in the face of chaos.
This book has no philosophy, no hand-wringing, no adjectives, no theology, no politics. It is simply an extraordinary book by an extraordinary woman. Her story deserves a prominent place in the terrible library of the Shoah.
In "Children of the Flames: Dr. Joseph Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz," we hear the story of the infamous Mengele, the Angel of Death at Auschwitz, and his special children. Surviving twins tell us in their own words what they remember of their experiences as part of Mengele's genetic experiments in racial superiority. We learn how they picked up their lives and continued in a nightmare beyond the complete understanding of those of us who did not experience it.
Lucette Matalon Lagnado, who had written a story on Mengele for Parade magazine, and Sheila Cohn Dekel, the widow of a surviving twin, have written a book that tells us in detail of the life of the children who were saved from the gas chambers to participate in Mengele's laboratory. We are told of injections and operations and painful eye drops, the castration of a surviving twin's brother, the operations without anesthetic, the bruises, the brutality, the deliberate infections that were given to the twins in the name of eugenics, in the name of science and racial genetics.
The book also explores the family background, character and fate of Mengele himself, this charming, elegant, ambitious doctor who turned into one of the century's worst monsters. In this readable and often gripping book, the story of Mengele's life is interwoven with the words of his child victims. Sometimes the device is heavy, but often it serves to highlight the mystery and the horrors. We see Mengele in his final years, alone, bitter, given to his usual rages and hollow flirtations. We learn how he slipped through Allied hands and how his loving family protected him through the years. We see his obese mother and his successful father and his confused and needy son.
As the twins speak of their adult breakdowns and their difficulties in living with their memories, we see Mengele in hiding, not happy, but not unhappy enough. We learn how the anti-Semitic uprising in South America, after the capture of Adolph Eichmann, caused Ben Gurion to call off the hunt for Mengele.