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  • Holocaust Memoir Digest: A Digest of Published Survivor Memoirs with Study Guide and Maps
  • David Patterson
Holocaust Memoir Digest: A Digest of Published Survivor Memoirs with Study Guide and Maps., vols. 1–3, compiled and edited by Esther Goldberg, introduction and maps by Sir Martin Gilbert (Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2004–2006), vol. 1 xviii+126 pp., $19.50; vol. 2 xix+140 pp. $19.50; vol. 3 xix+120 pp. $19.50, all pbk.

In her ongoing multi-volume Holocaust Memoir Digest Esther Goldberg is producing a work indispensable to any understanding of the increasingly complicated field of Holocaust studies. The growing phenomenon of Holocaust denial demonstrates the urgency of preserving and transmitting the testimony contained in survivors' memoirs. Nor is Holocaust denial the only threat: a growing number of scholars regard survivors' testimonies as all but irrelevant to understanding the Holocaust. I have heard historians say that we should not look to the survivors for a sense of what the Holocaust was about precisely because they were there, trapped in the midst of the whirlwind. Survivors' accounts are "tainted," it is argued, by their personal perspectives. Goldberg's Digest refutes this position.

Her opus surpasses every such reference work for usefulness to scholars, teachers, and students. Each volume includes an index that enables the reader to cross-reference places, names, and themes that appear in the memoirs covered. If, for example, you want to know where survivors discuss Belzec, Fossoli, the Muselmänner, Chaim Rumkowski, or Jewish resistance, check the volume's index. If you are uncertain about terms such as Appel, Arrow Cross, Hlinka Guard, or szmalcownicy, check the volume's glossary. If you have a question about where places are located, camp layouts, the number of survivors by country, or Righteous Gentiles by country, consult the beautifully designed full-color maps by Martin Gilbert. Each volume also contains a list of German military ranks and their meanings, so you can tell a Standartenfü hrer from a Scharführer.

For the educator, the Digest is a uniquely helpful resource. Each volume includes study questions addressing matters such as Jewish religious observance during the Shoah and the Nazis' exploitation of local antisemitism. The volumes go into the deportations and death marches, Jewish resistance, and the hiding of Jewish children. These and other questions are central not just to what took place during the Nazis' attempted annihilation of the Jewish people but also to an understanding of the metaphysical dimensions of the assault on the soul of every Jew. [End Page 329]

The questions correlate to the Digest's organization. Subheadings bring out each survivor's account of Jewish life before the war, giving a clear idea of what was obliterated. Goldberg includes subheadings on ghetto life and ghetto death, mass murder sites and slave labor camps, partisan activity, and efforts to save Jews. One immediately sees how such a categorization of subject matter in the memoirs is a valuable aide to any teacher assigning research topics on the Holocaust, as well as for any scholar interested in these aspects of events. In addition to the color maps in the back matter of each volume, Gilbert provides brilliant black-and-white maps specific to each memoir. Each entry also contains a list of places mentioned, both inside and outside Europe.

The volumes contain both widely known and less well known works. Goldberg shows a sensitivity toward every survivor who undertakes the courageous, traumatic task of revisiting the Holocaust. She also notes the names of the individuals appearing in the memoirs, returning names to the nameless. She includes memoirs written over the span of the sixty-plus years since the Shoah.

One should keep in mind important differences between memoirs written early on and the late-life memoirs written more recently. Memoirs written during the first generation after the Holocaust were aimed in the first instance at readers who had been alive during the events—readers for whom the Shoah was part of their own historical experience and therefore of their own realm of responsibility. In almost every instance writers of the early memoirs wrote neither for their families nor for their children: their families had been slaughtered...


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