The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million
  • Alternative view 1 of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million
  • Alternative view 2 of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

3.9 37
by Daniel Mendelsohn
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

In this rich and riveting narrative, a writer's search for the truth behind his family's tragic past in World War II becomes a remarkably original epic - part memoir, part reportage, part mystery, and part scholarly detective work - that brilliantly explores the nature of time and memory, family and history.

The Lost begins as the story of a boy who

Overview

In this rich and riveting narrative, a writer's search for the truth behind his family's tragic past in World War II becomes a remarkably original epic - part memoir, part reportage, part mystery, and part scholarly detective work - that brilliantly explores the nature of time and memory, family and history.

The Lost begins as the story of a boy who grew up in a family haunted by the disappearance of six relatives during the Holocaust - an unmentionable subject that gripped his imagination from earliest childhood. Decades later, spurred by the discovery of a cache of desperate letters written to his grandfather in 1939 and tantalized by fragmentary tales of a terrible betrayal, Daniel Mendelsohn sets out to find the remaining eyewitnesses to his relatives' fates. That quest eventually takes him to a dozen countries on four continents, and forces him to confront the wrenching discrepancies between the histories we live and the stories we tell. And it leads him, finally, back to the small Ukrainian town where his family's story began, and where the solution to a decades-old mystery awaits him.

Deftly moving between past and present, interweaving a world-wandering odyssey with childhood memories of a now-lost generation of immigrant Jews and provocative ruminations on biblical texts and Jewish history, The Lost transforms the story of one family into a profound, morally searching meditation on our fragile hold on the past. Deeply personal, grippingly suspenseful, and beautifully written, this literary tour de force illuminates all that is lost, and found, in the passage of time.

Editorial Reviews

The Forward
“A grand book, an ambitious undertaking fully realized.”
BookForum
“The Lost is a sensitively written book that constantly asks itself the most difficult questions about history and memory.”
The Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A magnificent and deeply wise book. . . . Mesmerizing. . . . Mendelsohn’s accomplishment is enormous.”
People (four stars)
“An excellent memoir. . . . The Lost . . . brings to life the struggle of an entire generation.”
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Among the grainy photographs of the Mendelsohn family from the old country -- taken in a village called Bolechow, in what was then Poland but is now the Ukraine -- one stood out: that of a dapper father, a proud mother, and four daughters; on the back was the handwritten caption, "Killed by the Nazis." This was Mendelsohn's great-uncle Shmiel and his family, who met the same fate as most of the other Jews in town.

Mendelsohn recalls being told stories as a child by elderly Jews with tattoos on their arms -- stories that Daniel, a typical boy, infused with a sense of adventure and romance, but that, as a man, he felt a responsibility to investigate. The truth of what happened to each person in the photograph is appalling: shot off a plank over a mass grave, dragged from a cellar and executed, forced to watch as others' eyes are gouged out, and compelled to sit on hot stoves. This is testament enough to the incalculable horror of the Nazi occupation. What is truly unparalleled is Mendelsohn's determination to travel the globe, seeking out the few Bolechowers still alive and recording their testimonies. In the process, Mendelsohn has created a living record of a small, vanished world.

The Lost is a deeply emotional work of factual and emotional archaelogy: honest, devastating, humbling, and impossible to put down. (Holiday 2006 Selection)
Elie Wiesel
It's a vast, highly colored tapestry. Indeed, with passion and no little grit, he weaves in snippets of language, fragments of incident, fleeting names—and succeeds in assembling an immensely human tableau in which each witness has a face and each face a story and destiny. There's a survivor's son in Sweden, a relative in Israel, a peasant in Ukraine, a friend of friends in Austria: All are bound together. A reader cannot help but follow the trail breathlessly—first the suspense, doubt, surprise and, finally, the discovery. We share his anger, commend his hopes. And, when tears choke his voice, we, too, long to cry.

Despite overlong passages and a minor gaffe here and there…this is a remarkable personal narrative—rigorous in its search for truth, at once tender and exacting.
—The Washington Post

The New Yorker
Always aware of the danger of misrepresenting his finds…Mendelsohn constructs an artful, looping narrative that includes elaborate digressions on such topics as the Hebrew Bible, Homeric narrative, and tensions within his own immediate family. The technique pays off, showing how the Holocaust continues to affect people who had no direct experience of it.
William Grimes
Mr. Mendelsohn, an evocative, ruminative writer, brings to life the vanished world not just of prewar Poland but also of his childhood and his extended family, and his growing fascination with the story of Shmiel.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
As a boy in the 1960s, Mendelsohn could make elderly relatives cry just by entering the room, so much did he resemble his great-uncle Shmiel J ger, who had been "killed by the Nazis." This short phrase was all Mendelsohn knew of his maternal grandfather Abraham's brother, who had remained with his wife and four daughters in the Ukrainian shtetl of Bolechow after Abraham left for America. Long obsessed with family history, Mendelsohn (The Elusive Embrace) embarked in 2001 on a series of journeys to learn exactly what had happened to Shmiel and his family. The result is a rich, ruminative "mythic narrative... about closeness and distance, intimacy and violence, love and death." Mendelsohn uses these words to describe the biblical story of Cain and Abel, for one of the book's most striking elements is the author's recounting of the book of Genesis in parallel with his own story, highlighting eternal themes of origins and family, temptation and exile, brotherly betrayal, creation and annihilation. In Ukraine, Australia, Israel and Scandinavia, Mendelsohn locates a handful of extraordinary, aged Bolechow survivors. Especially poignant is his relationship with novelist Louis Begley's 90-year-old mother, from a town near the shtetl, an irascible, scene-stealing woman who eagerly follows Mendelsohn's remarkable effort to retrieve her lost world. B&w photos, maps. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Mendelsohn (humanities, Bard Coll.; The Elusive Embrace) opens this new work by describing his relationship with his story-telling grandfather and the latter's almost deafening silence about the fate of a brother, Shmiel, killed by the Nazis. While the book revolves around the author's decades-long search to discover the fate of his great uncle's family, this quest also leads to the compilation of a family genealogy and the discovery of various living relatives throughout the diaspora. Such stories of genealogical and historical investigations will often move into a meditation on inner discoveries, frequently embellished with epiphanies of religious or spiritual awakening or the rediscovery of an ethnic heritage. Mendelsohn does engage in some personal meditation on family relations and his Jewishness and intersperses his narrative with analysis from various Parasha, the weekly Torah portions that analyze biblical texts relating to suffering and memory. More than just the discovery of lost relatives, however, his journey serves as an expos of the memory of those who mourn the dead and of the dead who have no one left to mourn them. While occasionally burdened with excessive detail, the book illustrates the enduring legacy of the Holocaust in contemporary Jewish life. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/06.]-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An American Jew undertakes a quest to find out what happened to six of his own relatives who died in the Holocaust. When he was a boy, some of Mendelsohn's older relatives would cry when he entered the room. He reminded them of his great-uncle Shmiel, who, along with his wife and four daughters, was a Holocaust victim in Poland. Though Mendelsohn (Humanities/Bard Coll.; The Elusive Embrace, 1999) took on the role of "family historian," the exact fate of the six remained unknown to him. After his grandfather's death, Mendelsohn reads a stash of letters from Shmiel that illuminates his great uncle's desperate efforts to save his family as World War II approached. Mendelsohn then puts extraordinary effort into unearthing their stories. He twice travels to Shmiel's town, now in Ukraine, and makes trips to countries including Israel, Australia and Sweden to interview relatives and other survivors. The author lets the survivors-many of whom have passed away since the interviews recounted here-unfold their own stories. Many Jews from the town were taken into the woods and machine-gunned; others were gassed. Slowly, a picture emerges of Shmiel and his family-his pride in his butcher business, the girls' attractiveness-that reclaims them from the past. His search also brings him back to his own religion-he intersperses the story with Biblical passages as a way to grapple with what happened-as well as his own brother, who travels with him. Only at the very end of his hunt, after he thinks he is finished, does Mendelsohn encounter a man who steers him to the actual house where Shmiel and one of his daughters were dragged from a cellar and shot. A forceful meditation touching on loss, memory,Jewishness and the vagaries of chance in human life.
Jonathan Safran Foer
“Epic and personal, meditative and suspenseful, tragic and at times hilarious, The Lost is a wonderful book.”
Michael Chabon
“A beautiful book, beautifully written.”
J. M. Coetzee
“A stirring detective work, The Lost is … deepened by reflections on the inescapable part that chance plays in history.”
Joyce Carol Oates
“Daniel Mendelsohn has written a powerfully moving work of a “lost” family past. . . . A remarkable achievement.”
Garry Wills
“Mendelsohn, a classicist, creates a stunning Odyssey here, an epic world-wandering.”
Francine Prose
“A stunning memoir. . . . As suspenseful as a detective thriller, and as difficult to put down.”
Charles Simic
“The Lost is the most gripping, the most amazing true story I have read in years.”
Rebecca Goldstein
“A stunning achievement. . . . Extraordinary.”
Ron Rosenbaum
“Hugely ambitious yet intensely engaging. . . . Absorbing, novelistic. . . . Thought-provoking and original.”
Samuel G. Freedman
“Stunning. . . . A singular achievement, a work of major significance and pummeling impact.”
(four stars) - People Magazine
"An excellent memoir. . . . The Lost . . . brings to life the struggle of an entire generation."
People
“An excellent memoir. . . . The Lost . . . brings to life the struggle of an entire generation.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060542993
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/21/2007
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
528
Sales rank:
274,049
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Lost

A Search for Six of Six Million
By Daniel Mendelsohn

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Daniel Mendelsohn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060542977

Chapter One

The Formless Void

Some time ago, when I was six or seven or eight years old, it would occasionally happen that I'd walk into a room and certain people would begin to cry. The rooms in which this happened were located, more often than not, in Miami Beach, Florida, and the people on whom I had this strange effect were, like nearly everyone in Miami Beach in the mid-nineteen-sixties, old. Like nearly everyone else in Miami Beach at that time (or so it seemed to me then), these old people were Jews--Jews of the sort who were likely to lapse, when sharing prized bits of gossip or coming to the long-delayed endings of stories or to the punch lines of jokes, into Yiddish; which of course had the effect of rendering the climaxes, the points, of these stories and jokes incomprehensible to those of us who were young.

Like many elderly residents of Miami Beach in those days, these people lived in apartments or small houses that seemed, to those who didn't live in them, slightly stale; and which were on the whole quiet, except on those evenings when the sound of the Red Skelton or Milton Berle or Lawrence Welk shows blared from the black-and-white television sets. At certain intervals, however,their stale, quiet apartments would grow noisy with the voices of young children who had flown down for a few weeks in the winter or spring from Long Island or the New Jersey suburbs to see these old Jews, and who would be presented to them, squirming with awkwardness and embarrassment, and forced to kiss their papery, cool cheeks.

Kissing the cheeks of old Jewish relatives! We writhed, we groaned, we wanted to race down to the kidney-shaped heated swimming pool in back of the apartment complex, but first we had to kiss all those cheeks; which, on the men, smelled like basements and hair tonic and Tiparillos, and were scratchy with whiskers so white you'd often mistake them for lint (as my younger brother once did, who attempted to pluck off the offending fluff only to be smacked, ungently, on the side of the head); and, on the old women, gave off the vague aroma of face powder and cooking oil, and were as soft as the "emergency" tissues crammed into the bottom of their purses, crushed there like petals next to the violet smelling salts, wrinkled cough-drop wrappers, and crumpled bills. . . . The crumpled bills. Take this and hold it for Marlene until I come out, my mother's mother, whom we called Nana, instructed my other grandmother, as she handed her a small red leather purse containing a crinkled twenty-dollar bill one February day in 1965, just before they wheeled her into an operating room for some exploratory surgery. She had just turned fifty-nine, and wasn't feeling well. My grandmother Kay obeyed and took the purse with the crumpled bill, and true to her word she delivered it to my mother, who was still holding it a number of days later when Nana, laid in a plain pine box, as is the custom, was buried in the Mount Judah Cemetery in Queens, in the section owned (as an inscription on a granite gateway informs you) by the First Bolechower Sick Benevolent Association. To be buried here you had to belong to this association, which meant in turn that you had to have come from a small town of a few thousand people, located halfway around the world in a landscape that had once belonged to Austria and then to Poland and then to many others, called Bolechow.

Now it is true that my mother's mother--whose soft earlobes, with their chunky blue or yellow crystal earrings, I would play with as I sat on her lap in the webbed garden chair on my parents' front porch, and whom at one point I loved more than anyone else, which is no doubt why her death was the first event of which I have any distinct memories, although it's true that those memories are, at best, fragments (the undulating fish pattern of the tiles on the walls of the hospital waiting room; my mother saying something to me urgently, something important, although it would be another forty years before I was finally reminded of what it was; a complex emotion of yearning and fear and shame; the sound of water running in a sink)--my mother's mother was not born in Bolechow, and indeed was the only one of my four grandparents who was born in the United States: a fact that, among a certain group of people that is now extinct, once gave her a certain cachet. But her handsome and domineering husband, my grandfather, Grandpa, had been born and grew to young manhood in Bolechow, he and his six siblings, the three brothers and three sisters; and for this reason he was permitted to own a plot in that particular section of Mount Judah Cemetery. There he, too, lies buried now, along with his mother, two of his three sisters, and one of his three brothers. The other sister, the fiercely possessive mother of an only son, followed her boy to another state, and lies buried there. Of the other two brothers, one (so we were always told) had had the good sense and foresight to emigrate with his wife and small children from Poland to Palestine in the 1930s, and as a result of that sage decision was buried, in due time, in Israel. The oldest brother, who was also the handsomest of the seven siblings, the most adored and adulated, the prince of the family, had come as a young man to New York, in 1913; but after a scant year living with an aunt and uncle there he decided that he preferred Bolechow. And so, after a year in the States, he went back--a choice that, because he ended up happy and prosperous there, he knew to be the right one. He has no grave at all.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Mendelsohn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

"Epic and personal, meditative and suspenseful, tragic and at times hilarious, The Lost is a wonderful book."
--- Jonathan Safran Foer
Joyce Carol Oates
“Daniel Mendelsohn has written a powerfully moving work of a “lost” family past. . . . A remarkable achievement.”
J. M. Coetzee
“A stirring detective work, The Lost is … deepened by reflections on the inescapable part that chance plays in history.”
Francine Prose
“A stunning memoir. . . . As suspenseful as a detective thriller, and as difficult to put down.”
Ron Rosenbaum
“Hugely ambitious yet intensely engaging. . . . Absorbing, novelistic. . . . Thought-provoking and original.”
Charles Simic
“The Lost is the most gripping, the most amazing true story I have read in years.”
Garry Wills
“Mendelsohn, a classicist, creates a stunning Odyssey here, an epic world-wandering.”
Samuel G. Freedman
“Stunning. . . . A singular achievement, a work of major significance and pummeling impact.”
Michael Chabon
“A beautiful book, beautifully written.”
Jonathan Safran Foer
“Epic and personal, meditative and suspenseful, tragic and at times hilarious, The Lost is a wonderful book.”
Rebecca Goldstein
“A stunning achievement. . . . Extraordinary.”

Meet the Author

Daniel Mendelsohn a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, is the author of the international bestseller The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. He teaches at Bard College.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
April 16, 1960
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
B.A., Classics, University of Virginia, 1982; M.A., Classics, Princeton University, 1989; Ph.D., 1994
Website:
http://www.danielmendelsohn.com

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
4bb More than 1 year ago
THE LOST is an important book, and Mendelsohn writes with passion and, often, elegance. But the book needed an editor who would have helped Mendelsohn to be less repetitious and long-winded. In many ways, Mendelsohn is trying to mirror in writing the way in which people orally tell stories, with digressions that eventually make a point. He also tries to bring the reader along on his journey of discovery, so that we go down blind alleys and make erroneous assumptions with him, and find the truth later, as he does. The best parts of the book are the significant questions he raises and the way in which he uses the first chapters of Genesis to explore those questions--like Why does God let innocents die, as must have died in the Flood (Noah's story) and in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? And, unspoken, is the more modern question: Why did God allow all the innocents to die in the Holocaust? Mendelsohn gives no answers to such questions--they cannot be answered--but they give the book a depth and gravity that make THE LOST more than one man's search for six of his relatives. THE LOST becomes a book of profound meaning and well-worth the irritation of reading through too much repetition and too many page-long sentences.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was raised by parents who were Jewish but non-religious. Their parents or grandparents came to America from the area in eastern Europe that is described in this book. I have always known that the Jews who came to America generally did OK, but the relatives who stayed behind in the Old Country were all murdered when the Nazis came through during World War II. I never particularly identified with the people who died, until I read this book. Working in the present day, the author interviews now-elderly survivors of that period of World War II, including elderly Poles and Ukrainians who still live in that town, and the handful of Jews who managed to survive, and now live in other places in the world, such as Israel, Australia, and Scandinavia. The stories the survivors tell about themselves are amazing. Through them, the author gradually learns more and more about six of his relatives: his grandfather's brother and that man's wife and four daughters. At first, the author (and the reader) knows the people only through a few old pictures and half-forgotten stories the author heard when he was a child. As the book progresses, he gradually learns more and more facts about his six relatives, including what they were like, how they struggled to survive, and how they died. Over 99% of the Jews in that town were murdered, mainly in 1943, but not all at the same time. The book reads like a mystery, with more and more facts coming to light. Parts were so painful that I could not read them, and I skipped over portions that involved interpretations of the Torah, but I was fascinated by the portions that shed more light on what happened to this family. With so many millions killed, it was so important to me to learn some details about at least this one family, so they are not all forgotten. Highly recommended, especially for secular Jews who may have avoided stuff like this in the past.
sweetkitten More than 1 year ago
Have just finished this gripping haunting tale. I have read many books about the Holocaust as I grew up in London in WW11. Now in my life it is painful to realize this was going on just across the English channel, while I was happily playing with my dolls. In reading this you become enmeshed in this family and feel like these relatives are yours. This book would never have happened if Shmiel had stayed in America. Fate dealt him a tragic hand. His letters asking for help from his family in the US are haunting. Tuesday 28 October 1941 the Nazis ended a way of life forever. This book is one I will never forget. Everybody. Read it.
shorebird43 More than 1 year ago
My first comment has to do with the NOOK version. On or about page 128, while you are deeply entrenched in the story, the NOOK version skips backward in the page numbers and is the most frustrating and disappointing distraction. I was concerned that the book would be too different for a Christian's perspectives, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite some verbosity, I found myself relating to his relationships with his family and wishing that I had had the insight and the opportunity to have gotten to know my grandparents better.
relsek More than 1 year ago
Tough to say much more than what other people, here and elsewhere, have said about this book. I simply could not put it down and now cannot get it out of my head. It is so much more than the story of one man's search for the fate of his lost relatives. It is also a meditation on love, the uses of memory, the stories that are told in Genesis, and nothing less than the ways in which we choose to live. It's also a fabulous detective story, tender, spellbinding, painful to read in spots. I've never read a book quite like it. It is a book that has the potential to make us better human beings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I ordered the Nook version of The Lost as my first Nook book after receiving the HD+ for Christmas. Unfortunantly, after 226 wonderful pages the Nook version stops and resets to page 178. After several attempts to get this, first, duplicated, and corrected I am still waiting to see how pages 227 through 501 turn out. For a NYT Best Seller when I bought it I feel ripped and will now settle for a warning in the shop so others do not wait over 2 months for a book that has no restrictions on it and a hardcover for my time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maryann55 More than 1 year ago
I was completely absorbed in this book. It stresses the importance of knowing your family history and asking questions of your family members while they are still able to tell you your history. A sad story but an important one. Lovingly told by the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
smc1020 More than 1 year ago
Although this is the story of six lost among millions in the Holocaust, any family, of any culture, that has undergone traumatic persecution, can identify and be swept into the story. This should be required reading due to the very detailed and painstaking research that went into it's writing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jmad More than 1 year ago
An excellent book, from a perspective that I hadn't seen much explored before: what was being done by friends and neighbors in the towns and villages of eastern Europe even before the actual onset of the concentration camps. This book is sweet and touching in the beginning, horrifying in the middle (because every lethal act is happening to someone we now know) and -- well, I don't know how to describe the ending. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My book club read this book and most of us liked it. This is not an easy read. The story of Mendelsohn's search for his six realatives was very interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the carefully researched true story of a family's search for knowledge of family members killed in the Holocaust. Occasionally gruesome, but how could it not be, given the subject. The book is not a light read, but neither is it difficult to follow. For serious readers and especially those interested in the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recieved this book as a gift. Knowing that I like to read stories of wwII the gift was well recieved. This book has it all expecially suspence. The author wrote an exceptional book. I can honestly say that I dont believe I have the drive that he did to find his geneology. But he does put it in ones mind the question" how long has my family existed"? This book had it all. It had love, suspence and drama. It will clearly make you think. Spiritually or emotionally you can not help but to wonder. I read this book from cover to cover and I thought it was so well written. Just one negative I thought there was. Some of the sentances make you run out of breath even if you are reading it to yourself. I know probably in the near future I will read it again.