Monday, April 12, 2010

Holocaust Memorial Day

It's been 65 years since the end of World War II and the Holocaust. Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and in certain communities around the world. Of the various memorial days for Holocaust victims, this is probably the best known besides the "official" International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which typically passes with little fanfare.

I've already written much about Primo Levi's well-known works, about Holocaust memoirs, and other topics, but there is much to be said about the wide and varied "Holocaust lit" genre. And I do mean "lit" - literature in the sense of novels and stories as opposed to memoirs or personal accounts.

World War II is one of the most common story settings. The Holocaust similarly so. These are books across the board when it comes to style, intended audience and genre: popular fiction, romance, teen, heavier "literary" fiction... even sci-fi (though this is probably the rarest of the lot). All of these books take the same larger setting, so you'd think all would also sound alike and lack originality (more so than most literature, that is).

What warrants our attention? As I once mentioned in passing, there are too many poorly written Holocaust and World War II books out there that make it big and are even used for teaching. For many years, I avoided "the Holocaust novel" like I might a romance novel or a thriller simply because I was, for lack of a better phrase, sick of it. The last couple of years, I've tentatively begun to return to the field. I've realized that most of the books are still bad (because most books are just bad), but there are a couple of gems. And then the question: do these books even count?

What I mean is this. A book like "The Family Moskat" doesn't seem like a Holocaust book at all. It takes place between the world wars, just ending as tanks roll into Warsaw (spoiler alert?). Even though it seems far from the war, it actually embodies it throughout the work in the subtle references, the exploration of anti-Semitism among Poles and a display of the Polish-Jewish dynamic. Or what of "Brodeck", which neglects to title the fairly obvious war and focuses on the aftermath? Though never named, the Holocaust (imagined or not) is clearly felt throughout the novel.

Definitions aside, all of these books remind us of a world that should not be forgotten. Whether these books are based on real lives or are reality mixed with pure fiction, each story (or even fragment, thread or mention) keeps us one step further from forgetting the horrors that occurred far too recently.

2 comments:

  1. The Family Moskat totally seems like a Holocaust book to me. The impending doom everyone is facing is what gives it its poignancy and also accentuates the trivial nature of their concerns, even while paying homage to them as the only kind of concerns one should be having (versus the ones they will soon have). It also shows, as you say, the atmosphere beforehand that was so poison, but not recognized as such. I think it is a fabulous example of a Holocaust book, even if it ends in 1939!

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  2. Intriguing post! Would be very interesting to read your list and comments of Holocaust memoirs that seem most true to you. Would you consider doing that?

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