A Promise to Remember: The Holocaust in the Words and Voices of Its Survivorsby Michael Berenbaum
Michael Berenbaum, bestselling author and former director of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, provides the powerful narrative for this concise history of the Holocaust. Each chapter addresses a different topic, moving from the rise of the Nazis and ghettoization to the death camps and liberation. Events are personalized as survivors tell their stories. Many of… See more details below
Michael Berenbaum, bestselling author and former director of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, provides the powerful narrative for this concise history of the Holocaust. Each chapter addresses a different topic, moving from the rise of the Nazis and ghettoization to the death camps and liberation. Events are personalized as survivors tell their stories. Many of these stories also appear on the accompanying hour-long CD, allowing readers to hear the voices of the survivors as they share their moving tales in their own words. Holding the removable documents in their hands and hearing the survivors' voices on the CD, readers will be enlightened about one of the darkest chapters in history. The book's emotional impact and historical depth make it an invaluable tool for both family discussion and individual understanding of the Holocaust.
Author Biography: Michael Berenbaum has served as president of Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, as deputy director of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, and as project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He lives in Los Angeles.
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A Promise to Remember
By Michael Berenbaum
Bulfinch PressCopyright © 2003 Michael Berenbaum
All right reserved.
IntroductionThe World Before
This book is a hybrid-fpart text, part visual, part interactive, part audio. Each piece of the book is built on the others. The visual enhances the written word; the enclosures physically engage the reader in what he or she has read and seen; the audio preserves the testimonies of those who have borne witness, those who deserve to be heard.
Nothing this brief could possibly do justice to an event as vast as the Holocaust, which evolved over twelve years and enveloped the entire continent of Europe; which consumed some six million dead; and whose implications are seen in headlines and images that have entered the conscious and subconscious of all humanity. I cannot pretend otherwise. This work joins the many other books I have written and edited and the works of many colleagues and friends to come to terms with the Event that we now call the Holocaust.
For those for whom this work is a brief introduction to the Holocaust, a few words must be said of the pre-Holocaust history of its primary victims, the Jews.
Jews trace their origin to the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Their religious journey began with a call to Abram to journey forth, and so their historical journey began in exile-in Mitzraim-in Egypt, where the first sons and daughters of Israel were enslaved. The Israelites' sojourn in the desert culminated religiously in the formation of the covenant between God and the people Israel at Sinai. Historically, it culminated in entry into the Promised Land and the establishment of the first Jewish commonwealth in the Land of Israel. The Jews would be exiled several more times throughout history, but exile never meant the end of the people or the demise of their religious faith.
But where religion was most decisive in constituting society, Jews were frequently outsiders, and in Christian Europe they were often the lone dissident voice. Yet at the same time, Jews play a significant role in the Christian faith, which teaches that Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and that the original covenant was between God and Israel. But the Jews reject Jesus as the Christ, believing that the world is not yet redeemed. Thus, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in Europe was both close and intense, and potentially problematic. Some Christians held Judaism in contempt, believing the New Testament had superceded rather than supplemented the Hebrew Bible, and therefore seeing the ongoing life of the Jews and Judaism as without purpose because it was in error. Religious differences also became the reason for social ostracism and economic discrimination, forcing the Jews to live at the margins of society, where they were sometimes able to thrive. The tensions were further complicated with modernization and secularization, which allowed Jews in some places to participate fully in the economic and political lives of their communities while maintaining their religious beliefs.
And so, before the Holocaust, Jews were to be found living in varied circumstances throughout the European continent-both poor and rich, pious and secular, integrated into their societies and living in essentially closed communities, quiescent and politically active. They were rural peasants and urban sophisticates, caftan-clad Hasidim and militant socialists, academics of international prominence and local merchants struggling to survive; no single image captures the diversity of the Jews of Europe.
Through the individuals that have been chosen to share their experiences and to narrate this story, we have attempted to give the reader a glimpse of that diversity, a glance-inadequate as it may be-of the world before the Holocaust.
This work presents fragments of a history, a history incarnated in the life and the testimony of those who lived it.
Perhaps a brief overview will enable the reader to traverse the chapters; a picture of the whole may place each story in context.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party to power on January 30, 1933, the persecution of the Jews began; boycotts and book burnings, expulsion from the civil service, definition and discrimination were all a part of the articulated goal of forced emigration of the Jews, leaving Germany Judenrein, free of Jews. The strategy tailed for two reasons. First, few countries were willing to receive Jews, and none in the numbers required to solve the "refugee crisis," a euphemism for the Jewish question in the West. This became clear to all after the failed Evian Conference of July 1938, which was convened to address the refugee crisis but ultimately offered no initiative commensurate with the needs of the German Jews. Secondly, the German Reich kept capturing more territory, and as the German world expanded, the Jewish world constricted.
In March 1938 Germany entered Austria and incorporated that German-speaking country into the Reich. In September Germany entered regions of Czechoslovakia. A year later, in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and became custodian of more than two million Polish Jews In the spring of 1940 Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Denmark, as well as the Netherlands, and became dominant in Western Europe. In Apri1 1941 Germany attacked Yugoslavia and Greece, and in June moved against Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Soviet Union, including the areas of Poland that the Soviet Union had occupied in 1939.
With each conquest, the number of Jews under German control increased and the options narrowed. Voluntary or forced emigration of so large a population was impossible; containment was required. In Poland, Jews were ghettoized, a temporary measure pending a decision as to what would be their fate. In German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, Latvia, and Lithuania, mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen, killed massive numbers of Jews before they were ghettoized. And in western Europe, German policy varied state to state and year to year
The killing of Jews underwent significant development. At first the killers were sent to their victims. Later, mobile gassing vans were employed, and finally stationary killing centers situated along major railroad lines were employed as prisoners literally worked or walked to death.
These events did not happen in the abstract. They were perpetrated by individuals and endured by individuals, ordinary men and women who were eyewitnesses to one of the most extraordinary events in history. Through their words and voices, through their photographs, drawings, documents, and artifacts, this book attempts to capture the human dimension of the Holocaust and to enable those who survived to fulfill the promise they made to those they left behind: "Remember, and Do Not Let the World Forget."
This book is one more attempt for the survivors to remain faithful to that pledge and for this author, who is neither a survivor nor the child of survivors, to remain faithful to those who were there and lived to tell the story.
Excerpted from A Promise to Remember by Michael Berenbaum Copyright ©2003 by Michael Berenbaum. Excerpted by permission.
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