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Books to Read for Holocaust Remembrance Week

Yom HaShoah began this past Sunday at sundown, beginning Holocaust Remembrance Week. The following books explore the Holocaust and its impact through different perspectives: from inside the camps to the Jewish neighborhoods in New York City, recounting personal history and contemplating how to move forward from tragedy. 


FADERMAN-MyMother'sWarsMy Mother's Wars

by Lillian Faderman

A story of love, war, and life as a Jewish immigrant in the squalid factories and lively dance halls of New York's Garment District in the 1930s, My Mother's Wars is the memoir Lillian Faderman's mother was never able to write. The daughter delves into her mother's past to tell the story of a Latvian girl who left her village for America with dreams of a life on the stage and encountered the realities of her new world: the battles she was forced to fight as a woman, an immigrant worker, and a Jew with family left behind in Hitler's deadly path. 

The story begins in 1914: Mary, the girl who will become Lillian Faderman's mother, just seventeen and swept up with vague ambitions to be a dancer, travels alone to America, where her half-sister in Brooklyn takes her in. She finds a job in the garment industry and a shop friend who teaches her the thrills of dance halls and the cheap amusements open to working-class girls. This dazzling life leaves Mary distracted and her half-sister and brother-in-law scandalized that she has become a "good-time gal." They kick her out of their home, an event with consequences Mary will regret for the rest of her life. 

Eighteen years later, still barely scraping by as a garment worker and unmarried at thirty-five, Mary falls madly in love and has a torrid romance with a man who will never marry her, but who will father Lillian Faderman before he disappears from their lives. America is in the midst of the Depression, Hitler is coming to power in Europe, and New York's garment workers are just beginning to unionize. Mary makes tentative steps to join, despite her lover's angry opposition. As National Socialism engulfs Europe, Mary realizes she must find a way to get her family out of Latvia, and she spends frenetic months chasing vague promises and false rumors of hope. Pregnant again, after having submitted to two wrenching back-room abortions, and still unmarried, Mary faces both single motherhood and the devastating possibility of losing her entire Eastern European family. 

Drawing on family stories and documents, as well as her own tireless research, Lillian Faderman has reconstructed an engrossing and essential chapter in the history of women, of workers, of Jews, and of the Holocaust as immigrants experienced it from American shores. 

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Watch Lillian Faderman read about her mother's attempts to rescue her family from the Holocaust



1427 (1)Man's Search for Meaning

by Viktor Frankl

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America. 

Read the Teachers' Guide for Man's Search for Meaning

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7071Rena's Promise

by Rena Kornreich Gelissen and Heather Dune Macadam

Sent to Auschwitz on the first Jewish transport, Rena Kornreich survived the Nazi death camps for over three years. While there she was reunited with her sister Danka. Each day became a struggle to fulfill the promise Rena made to her mother when the family was forced to split apart--a promise to take care of her sister. 

One of the few Holocaust memoirs about the lives of women in the camps, Rena's Promise is a compelling story of the fleeting human connections that fostered determination and made survival a possibility. From the bonds between mothers, daughters, and sisters, to the links between prisoners, and even prisoners and guards, Rena's Promise reminds us of the humanity and hope that survives inordinate inhumanity.

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Visit the Rena's Promise website.

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7095Burned Child Seeks the Fire 

by Cordelia Edvardson (translated by Joel Agee)

This unusual memoir is the story of a self-described "dark, pudgy, mean, defiant little brat," born in Berlin in 1929 of a half-Jewish mother and a Catholic father and sent to a concentration camp almost, it seems, as a bureaucratic formality. Raised Catholic, Cordelia Edvardson had little in common with her fellow inmates, some of whom despised her as a "German swine." Singled out for punishment, she was selected to act as a secretary for the monstrous "angel of Auschwitz," Josef Mengele. Impressionistic and naïve, Edvardson's third-person memoir retains a highly effective childlike quality ("she had learned that anything can happen, no matter what and no matter when, and for inexplicable reasons") that holds even in the most horrifying episodes. After World War II ended, Edvardson moved to Sweden, where this book was first published. She then converted to Judaism and moved to Israel.

Read Cordelia Edvardson's obituary at the Jerusalem Post.

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