The BEST: Yom HaShoah Columns

Tradition Online | April 28, 2022

Primo Levi

As we mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) sample these relevant recent offerings from “The BEST” on Holocaust literature which engages our hearts, minds, and memories.

First-person survivor accounts dominate the list of famous Holocaust books. The Italian Jewish chemist, Primo Levi (1919-1987), spent close to a year in Auschwitz and published such an account titled If This Is a Man (the American edition is called Survival in Auschwitz). Our editor Jeffrey Saks considered Levi’s depiction of how shockingly easily humanity can become degraded.

Levi’s later collection of eight essays, The Drowned and the Saved, includes analyses of different aspects of the Shoah. For example, “Shame” explains why suicide was much more common among survivors after the war than among camp inmates during the war. Yitzchak Blau suggests that this chapter gained extra poignancy after Levi himself fell to his death from a third-story apartment landing, widely considered an act of suicide.

Israeli illustrator Shay Charka explained how Art Spiegelman’s Maus liberated Jewish culture by appropriating anti-Semitic stereotypes: “Spiegelman’s most significant contribution to the rehabilitation of the Jewish spirit after millennia of persecution culminating in the Holocaust is specifically through his depictions of Jews as mice.”

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