Hazy Hints of Memory: After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

October 27, 2016

by Claudia MoscoviciAftertheHolocusttheBellsStillRing9789655241624.JPG

Early childhood development specialists emphasize the importance of having a nurturing and stable environment for infants and toddlers. That’s when the foundations of a child’s personality are formed and influence the rest of their life. Studies have shown that many of the children who grew up in the Communist Romanian orphanages during the 1980’s, living in deplorable conditions and deprived of love, attention, adequate sanitary facilities and healthy food, developed personality deficiencies that marred their lives. Many felt emotionally detached from others and could barely communicate, even as adults.

What about the youngest children of the Holocaust, growing up in the most hellish circumstances imaginable? Most of them perished in the fires of the crematoria, being the first to be selected for immediate death. The few so-called “lucky” child survivors recall bits and pieces of might have been an even worse fate. Rabbi Joseph Polak’s recent memoir, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring (New York, Urim Publications, 2015), winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award, depicts surviving as a toddler in environments whose only certainties were suffering, squalor, misery and death. Read the rest of this entry »


WINNER of the 2015 National Book Award

January 14, 2016

AftertheHolocustWeb1

WINNER of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award

in the category of

Biography & Autobiography

After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

by Rabbi Joseph Polak

Foreword by Elie Wiesel


BU Rabbi Emeritus: ‘After The Holocaust The Bells Still Ring’

January 23, 2015

Rabbi Joseph Polak, author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, was interviewed on Radio Boston with Meghna Chakrabarti.

Among many questions, Rabbi Polak was asked about his memories of the Holocaust.

AftertheHolocustWeb1 “The early memories are impressionistic. The poplar trees stir something in my body…even now, that I know comes from there. So, do I have visual memory of it? No. But the first time I saw poplar trees, certainly in Europe, I knew that this was associated with the Holocaust. It took me years to figure out what it was…They were part of the topography of Westerbork. And Westerbork is at the youngest point of my childhood in the Holocaust.”

He was also asked what he thinks child survivors of the Holocaust should have been told.

“What I think they should have said was, ‘Yes, you feel something. Yes, your body remembers something.’ That would have been very helpful…And this did not come just from one person in my life. It was universal. Whenever you met an adult survivor and you started talking about the Holocaust, they said, ‘Oh, you don’t remember anything. Thank God you were a child. Thank God you were a child.’ And I have these conversations with Eli Wiesel, thank God I was a child? Eli Wiesel was 14 when he was taken to the camps. I said, ‘You had 14 fabulous years with your family. You had a wonderful family, you were at your grandparents’ house, you’re at your parents’ house. It was a happy, warm family.’ I had three months with my family, and then I was taken to Westerbork and to Bergen-Belsen. I had nothing. And my group of survivors really, really suffered, sometimes to the point of madness in adult life, because of this.”

The final question was geared toward his views on forgiving the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

 “I think that it is not up to the survivors to forgive the Germans. I don’t think it’s up to the Jewish people to forgive the perpetrators. I think it’s something they have to take on themselves, and something they have to deal with themselves. We cannot speak for the dead, we cannot speak for the murdered. Who can?”

You can listen to this fascinating interview, and read more about it, here.