Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Holocaust and the Book

Just came across the following review on Jstor and find it *very* intriguing...

The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation. Edited by Jonathan Rose. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. 314 pp. $39.95. ISBN 1-55849-253-4.
This book of fifteen essays, with an introduction by Jonathan Rose, is a testimonial to the importance of the written word in the preservation of a culture and the necessity to record events under even the most harrowing conditions. For readers of Libraries & Culture who are already well informed about libraries and archives in times of war and revolution, The Holocaust and the Book can only deepen their appreciation of the written word and the often heroic efforts involved in its safekeeping.
Rose notes in his introduction that "the story of the Six Million is also the story of the One Hundred Million," the estimated number of books destroyed by the Nazis in Europe over a twelve-year period (1). Beginning with the book burnings in 1933, the essays describe the relentless destruction of Jewish books in Germany, Rome, Salonika, the U.S.S.R., the Netherlands, Poland, Vilna, and Bosnia, presenting a variety of approaches to the topic.
Part 1, "Destruction and Preservation," contains five essays: "The Nazi Attack on 'Un-German' Literature, 1933-1945" by Leonidas E. Hill; "Bloodless Torture: The Books of the Roman Ghetto under the Nazi Occupation" by Stanislao G. Pugliese (see an article on the same topic in L&C 34, no. 3 [summer 1999]); "The Confiscation of Jewish Books in Salonika in the Holocaust" by Yitzchak Kerem; "Embers Plucked from the Fire: The Rescue of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Vilna" by David E. Fishman; and "'The Jewish Question' and Censorship in the U.S.S.R." by Arlen Viktorivich Blium. While the events chronicled in these essays, notably, the Nazi book burnings, have been described before, the authors have dealt with their topics in a fresh way that should appeal to even seasoned historians.
Part 2, "Culture and Resistance," offers three fascinating essays on somewhat lesser known aspects of the topic. "The Secret Voice: Clandestine Fine Printing in the Netherlands, 1940-1945" by Sigrid Pohl Perry surveys several of the major clandestine presses operating during the period and includes some interesting photos. "Reading and Writing during the Holocaust as Described in Yisker Books" by Rosemary Horowitz describes the "memorial" books using source materials written during the war, prepared by immigrant associations to commemorate their communities. The Yisker books drew from diaries, illegal publications, letters, and records kept by Jews in the ghettos, the camps, and in hiding and offer much information about Eastern European Jewish life. The last essay, "Polish Books in Exile: Cultural Booty across Two Continents, through Two Wars" by Sem C. Sutter concerns the evacuation of priceless books and manuscripts that traveled from Poland to France to Quebec and finally back to Poland in 1959.
The title of part 3, "The Reader in the Holocaust: Documents," does not prepare us for the often moving accounts found in the four essays. Dina Abramowicz [End Page 273] writes on the daily difficulties of ghetto life in her essay, "The Library in the Vilna Ghetto," in which the presence of a library represented a rare and peaceful space for reading and reflection; the "Annual Report of the Vilna Ghetto Library, 1941-l942" is included. The second essay, "Library and Reading Room in the Vilna Ghetto, Strashun Street 6," by Herman Kruk, also deals with the matter of readership in the ghetto library. The next essay, "When the Printed Word Celebrates the Human Spirit," was written by Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann, a survivor of Theresienstadt who briefly describes her experience in the camp and the lack of time to read much of anything. Annette Biemond Peck closes the section with her brief essay, "Crying for Freedom: The Written Word as I Experienced It during World War II," about her wartime reading in Amsterdam.
Part 4, "Past and Present," begins with an interesting and provocative essay by John Rodden entitled "Zarathustra as Educator? The Nietzsche Archive in German History." This example of reception history, and the longest essay in the book, deals with the issue of cultural history in Germany, perhaps, as the author states, "a land with too much history" (251). He begins his essay in 1991 in Weimar, home of the Nietzsche Archive, and ranges back through Nietzsche's lifetime and his works before moving on to World War II and the Holocaust and finally to 1991 where he began—a thought-provoking journey. This essay is followed by Andras Riedlmayer's "Convivencia under Fire: Genocide and Book Burning in Bosnia," which reminds us that, even in the 1990s, books as cultural symbols continued to be destroyed. The essay briefly describes the history of book destruction in Bosnia over the last six centuries.
Finally, part 5 provides a useful bibliographic survey, "Jewish Print Culture and the Holocaust" by Joy A. Kingsolver and Andrew B. Wertheimer. It is divided into nine sections: an introduction, "Libraries and Archives," "Publishing," "Alfred Rosenberg and the Einsatztab Reichsleiter Rosenberg," "Jewish Cultural Reconstruction," "Documentation Centers and Archival Resources," "Holocaust Denial and Libraries," "Yisker Bikher," and "Additional Topics." This bibliographic essay is followed by "Notes on Contributors" but, unfortunately, not by an index. However, each of the essays is well documented with notes and, in some cases, bibliographies (in addition to the inclusive bibliographic essay at the end of the book). The use of judiciously selected photos, many courtesy of the National Archives, USHMM Photo Archives, serves to graphically evoke the period under consideration.
While The Holocaust and the Book is an examination of a dark period in history, it is as well a tribute to those who worked to preserve their written heritage throughout and beyond that period. The editor is to be commended for presenting a well-organized and very readable volume of diverse essays, only some of which grew out of the 1996 Drew University conference on "The Holocaust and the Book."

No comments: