Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Review: three in common

This past month I read three books that profoundly impacted me. Taking a breather from the teenage angst of Twilight, I borrowed a book from my mom called, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn. This began a frenzied study of stories about survivors of The Holocaust.
Mendelsohn's Lost starts in a manner that seemed quite tedious to me. He begins by sharing about his own family and how he went from vague stories he heard as a young child about relatives who were murdered during the German invasion of what is now the Ukraine. Mendelsohn spends great detail drawing you inside his family's history. He also interweaves several critiques on the Patriarchs of Genesis, building an understanding of how the Jews, as a nation, began. In the beginning of this book, I was overwhelmed by all the minutiae. However, once I got into the story, I began to feel for myself the urgent need to find out exactly how these precious relatives died. The search itself seems to unite Daniel not only with his past, his family history, but with his present and with his own siblings.

I came undone during several parts when he records actual testimony from witnesses of the crimes committed by the Nazi soldiers, Ukrainian villagers and even the Jewish Police against the families of Jews, especially children and babies. This book is terribly is also poignant and important. I found myself longing to talk to my own relatives who have since passed away, longing to learn more about the generation that lived during WWII. Upon completing this book, I realized I was still hungry to hear more about this time...

I have an extremely old copy of Martin Gray's For Those I Loved that I stole from my parents' library. I believe I once began this book in college, only to find it too painful, my young mind not ready to take it all in.

Barely 14 years old when the Nazis invaded Warsaw, Martin Gray gives his gripping account of coming to age during the darkest time that Polish Jews would ever see. His survival not only of the Jewish Ghetto but of the extermination camp, Treblinka, are staggering. Gray becomes a man during the War and I found myself having to stop at many points in his story just to pull away from the palpable terror, the fear of what it would mean to attempt to stay alive while all around you death is reigning. I don't want to say too much about this book, except to tell you to read it for yourself. The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during WWII are not so different from what certain governments in Africa are inflicting on their own people (DR of Congo, Uganda, Sudan). These things not only happened, but they continue to happen. I will say this, however: I felt such a fond love for Martin Gray while I was reading this - but I also felt that life had damaged him, almost beyond repair.

Admittedly, I was becoming obsessed with accounts of Holocaust survivors. I don't know if I was becoming fixated on the fear and the pain I was reading about, or if it was my anger against the Nazis (and all who behave like them)...but I sat down with my mom and we talked about everything I was reading. (I had previously worn Russ out, I think.) Having read both the books above, Mom reminded me about Corrie ten Boom's story in The Hiding Place.

Oh. If you've never read this book, then you are in luck - because to read it is to feel all that I've been describing but to sense the presence of the Lord in the midst of absolute horror and evil. Reading this book was like spending time with someone who has walked closely with God. Corrie ten Boom's family harbored and hid Jews during the German invasion of Holland. Her father, Casper ten Boom, shares his merciful heart perfectly when he says, "I pity the Germans, Corrie. They have touched the apple of God's eye."

Without spoiling the story for you, I will tell you that Corrie survives the awful conditions of the concentration camp, Ravensbruck. Throughout the book, the ten Booms are continually clinging to Truth, to passages of scripture that remind them of God's love and goodness. In unfathomable circumstances, they are able to love their tormentors. When I read the first 2 books, I was left feeling exhausted, deeply saddened. Upon finishing The Hiding Place, I thanked God for reminding me of His Truth, of His Hope for the future and for Heaven.

I confess that a part of me now wants to delve into studying The Third Reich and how Germany came under Nazi rule. What do you think? Maybe I need a break - anyone have some light-hearted suggestions? Mom, you still need to get started on Twilight!


lindsay said...

my head hurts.. but that's part of why I love ya-- you and your deep thinking self.

Rachael said...

Looking forward to reading all of these. We went to the Holocaust musuem while in Israel last summer. It was so amazing and tragic. I wa fascinated by the fact that such evil was able to flourish. It seriously makes your heart skip a beat about the last days and all that will take place.

Love you.

Kay said...

One of my favorite stories from Corrie is one that took place in the concentration camp. Corrie snuck out of the barracks one night to encourage some prisoners who were being taken away and who were fearful. She hid in a nook and as each person passed by she whispered, "Jesus is Victor!" What wonderful news when in a dark place.