Review of After the Holocaust the bells Still Ring

January 20, 2016

Review by Eleanor EhrenkranzAftertheHolocustWeb1

Another book on the Holocaust? Yes and no; this book is about a different Holo­caust—the one that survivors of concentration camps endured after April 1945. That is when survivors began to experience the horrific and persistent memories of what they had lived through, according to Joseph Polak, who entered the camps when he was just a toddler.

In the camps, the goal was simply to survive day to day. At night, the constant noises of people crying and climbing up and down the bunks to go to the bathroom, and the smells when they didn’t make it in time, did not give anyone time to meditate. So it was only after liberation that survivors who had physically recovered fully realized and relived the subhu­man lives they had been living.

That is when the nightmares began, mostly because of guilt; many knew they had behaved badly under duress. How many Dutch Jews, given a little authority, sent other people’s children off to Auschwitz to save their own, and how many inmates stole life-saving slices of bread from sleeping inmates? Who created those lists of people the Nazis used to round up the Jews in Holland? Why is it that 90% of the Jews in the Netherlands were slaughtered? These questions have obvious and disturbing answers.

Since this book is told from three different time periods, Polak asks many questions related to each of the periods, and not all of them have answers. At the beginning of the book, Polak is revisiting Troebitz (where his father is buried) in 1995 with a group of sur­vivors; his memories of what happened fifty years earlier surface and he recounts some of them. He wonders why he, a boy of three when he entered the camp, found a Nazi guardian who watched over him but asks why his father was so soon stricken with typhus and died. He intersperses these periods with a timeless, surrealistic philosophical discussion with an angel. And he asks the eternal ques­tions of the Angel of God: How did He allow the slaughter, especially of so many children? Why hasn’t He avenged this slaughter?

As an example of one atrocity, Joseph Polak’s beloved Uncle Anton, a widower, had the job of soothing people selected for deportation. And what happened to him? He, ”together with his four children, Isaac, age 11, Judith Hadassah, age 10, Shulamith Ruth, age 8, and Ben Zion Baruch, age 6—all were forced to run nude down the chute in Sobibor, where on July 9, 1943, they were gathered into the gas chambers. The powerlessness of it all—a father in his thirties, huddled naked with his four children, waiting for the gas.” Why?

This wrenching vision is only one of the stories Polak tells of the humiliation and de­struction of body and soul that went on daily and toward which Polak periodically questions God’s attitude.

And yet, there is something to be learned from the way in which two types of people survived in larger numbers than others. One group was composed of Zionist teenagers who kept planning to get to Palestine and sang their pioneer songs together. About 80% of them survived. The other group was com­posed of Orthodox Jews who spent over an hour a day in deep Torah study and met three times a day to pray together. These groups had one thing in common—they did not succumb to despair.

Another major point seems to be reflected most in a photograph most people have never seen before, of a seven-year-old boy on a sunny day, walking down a path in Bergen Belsen lined with dead, unburied bodies. He doesn’t look at them and seems unconcerned. Is this denial or is he following the dictates of Jewish law, which forbids one to look at a dead body? Perhaps the boy represents the world’s attitude toward what happened during the Holocaust.This is one of the many unanswered questions we are left with after reading this profound book.

This review originally appeared on The Jewish Book Council

 


Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values

December 8, 2015

By Linda F. Burghardt

EncyclopediaofJewishValues9789655241631How do we figure out how to live a good and just life? How do we set our moral compass so that it points us in the right direction? How do we develop an ethical code that helps us make our day-to-day decisions?

Nachum Amsel, a rabbi and educator, is convinced that people are searching for answers to these questions now more than ever before. His response is this book, a volume that contains a thorough explanation of Jewish values—moral principles which he says are God-given and not subject to change even though each generation may see the world through new eyes.

Rabbi Amsel sees Judaism not only as a religion, but also as a way of life, and thus his book goes far beyond traditional rituals to encompass every action of our lives. He believes that all our decisions and the behavior that results from them, even eating and sleeping, can be done in a Jewish way—that is, with a moral purpose that conforms to the timeless ethical precepts of Judaism.

He makes the point that he is not concerned with Jewish law, over which there have always been many disputes, nor Jewish thought, in which there are multiple viewpoints and divergent customs, but rather with values, the deeper, underlying set of moral principles that guide our overall lives and keep them clean and correct. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of The Jewish Dog

August 27, 2015

By Barbara M. BibelThe Jewish Dog9780983868538

Caleb, a remarkable dog, was born in Germany in 1935. He lived with his loving Jewish family until the Nazis forbade them to have a dog. A Nazi family adopts him and gives him to the SS, where he is trained to be a guard dog at a concentration camp. Caleb performs his duties admirably while acting as a keen observer of history and human nature. He sees the cruelty of the Nazis and the suffering that it caused, but he also witnesses the courage, loyalty, and friendship of the prisoners and those who aided them. He never forgets his original family. Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Torah Conversations with Nechama Leibowitz

May 9, 2013

by Moshe SokolowTorahConversationsWeb1

Nechama Leibowitz was an intensely private individual. In the thousands—if not tens of thousands—of classes she taught and lectures she gave in a career that spanned over sixty years, she never allowed herself to be filmed or videoed, and very rarely permitted herself to be recorded on tape. (Rabbi Yasgur reports this idiosyncrasy in detail.) I was present on occasion when Nechama expelled someone from her lecture hall for concealing a tape recorder. It is due primarily to her students and correspondents, like Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur, that we are able to glimpse the person behind the public aura.

Nechama’s public reserve sheltered an unaffected private reticence. Nechama was always Nechama: not Dr. Leibowitz (PhD from the University of Marburg, Germany), not Professor Leibowitz (of Tel Aviv University); just Nechama. Perhaps the greatest tribute to her lies not so much in the publication of previously undisclosed insights and interpretations, as in the self-evident fact that Rabbi Yasgur is as finely attuned to the Torah text as Nechama encouraged her students to be, and that he is carrying her work forward through his exemplary service with his pulpits and pupils.

Rabbi Yasgur’s book provides insights into a score of Torah texts, punctuated by the records of exchanges he had with Nechama over those interpretations—in person or via correspondence. The Torah lessons, per se, need no further approbation. Instead, I would like to elaborate an insight the book offers into the master teacher herself. In expounding on the moral of the story of God’s visit to Abraham shortly after his circumcision, Rabbi Yasgur quotes Nechama as stating that, “it is more important to offer help… than Divine revelation.”

Nothing was of greater importance to Nechama than Read the rest of this entry »