The International School for Holocaust Studies
Remembering: Voices of the Holocaust – A New History in the Words of the Men and Women who Survived
Reviewed by Dr. Gideon Greif
Carroll and Graf, 2006
Lyn Smith has been involved with the creation of the Holocaust Sound Archive at the Imperial War Museum, and has interviewed Holocaust survivors for over twenty-five years. The voices collected in this volume provide a unique insight into the complex human reality behind the abstract statistics of extermination. Susan Sinclair describes the terror and distress her parents suffered when, during the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom ("night of shattered glass"), a German mob broke into their apartment, attacked her and ripped her nightgown to shreds. There are numerous historical accounts of deportations to Auschwitz and other camps, as well as the powerful, vivid accounts of Trude Levi and Barbara Stimler of their journey in locked, airless cattle wagons to Auschwitz.
During the interview sessions, the author experienced firsthand the distress and difficulty survivors endured in sharing their stories, many for the first time. Details were often too painful to recall, and several survivors have explained the inadequacy of language to convey the sights, sounds, smells, humiliation, degradation, and sheer terror endured. Also, given the challenge of building new lives in the austerity of the postwar world, survivors were often too busy to dwell on the past, and if they wished to speak – few seemed willing to listen.
Despite the brutality and degradation endured, these testimonies are not just images of darkness and despair. Instances of mutual support, goodness, and small gestures of reciprocated kindness are recalled as well. There are countless examples of how, even in the most deprived, degrading, and cruel circumstances, people held firm to their humanity and steadfastly clung to the values that their parents and communities had bequeathed them. Even "Jewish humor" persisted.