In the summer we have three weeks leading up to Tisha B'Av that are meant as a way to get us into a spirit of mourning so that we can properly mourn the various historic Jewish tragedies. Yom Hashoah (this year Thursday April 19th) commemorates the greatest tragedy of all, and there is no time allotted for preparation. On the contrary, the seder meal from Passover is barely digested, and we immediately have to turn our happiness into mourning.
It is therefore a great imperative to take some time this week and prepare in some way for Yom Hashoah. This week I hope to recommend a few books that have helped me prepare.
Today I finished reading The Scrolls of Auschwitz by Ber Mark. I learned about it because it appears prominently in the footnotes of the book We Wept Without Tears: Testimonies from the Jewish Sunderkommando from Auschwitz, by Gideon Greif.
Both of these books are must reads. The Sonderkommando of Auschwitz-Birkenau consisted primarily of Jewish
prisoners forced by the Germans to facilitate the mass extermination. Though
never involved in the killing itself, they were compelled to be “members of
staff” of the Nazi death-factory.
We Wept Without Tears is a compilation of interviews with the surviving Sunderkommando. I have read a lot of Holocaust literature, but I cannot ever remember reading such chilling first hand accounts. But mostly the personal reflections by the people who lived to tell of the absolute worst atrocities ever witnessed in the history of the world will penetrate your soul. Gideon Greif should be commended for his work and for leaving this book for posterity.
The Scrolls of Auschwitz was written by the prominent Holocaust historian Ber Mark. HE started documenting the Holocaust as early as 1944, and this book was his last book. He completed it, with the assistance on his wife, on his death bed in 1966.
The book is the story of a collection of documents written by prisoners at Auschwitz and hidden, buried in the ground until they were discovered after the war. Incredibly, even in the depths of hell, many Jews had the presence of mind to document what was occurring and in some cases reflect on their horrific circumstances.
A short poem written in Polish by an anonymous author was discovered at Auschwitz:
Someone will say it was only a year
Three times four months
But I say there were days and nights without end
each day had twelve hours
each night seven hundred minutes
each minute sixty seconds
and each second - immeasurable suffering.
The end of the book brings in full three lengthy documents that survived the war. They were written by members of the Sunderkommando and they speak of their experience, and about the planning of the Sunderkommando uprising.