Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Recently I went to a Yon HaShoah service for the first time. My family
has a complicated history. My great-grandmother was hidden during
WW2 with a Catholic family by her parents. All her living relatives
perished and for most of her life she did not tell anyone, including her
Catholic husband, that she was really Jewish. After his death, she
gathered her children (among them my grandmother), and told them
that she would not ask them to change how they lived their lives, but
to honor her own family, she would ask them to tell their own children,
when they felt the children were mature enough to handle it, about
their heritage to honor the memory of her departed and to keep
knowledge alive. I know in a world of increasing globalization,
intermarriage, and more complex identities that my story isn’t all that
unique. But I grew up not knowing much about the Holocaust and I am
not much of a history buff. Can you recommend some books that can
educate me please? I started with the movie Shindler’s List and that
was eye opening in a horrible scary way.


Dear Descendent:

I have a ritual that I do every year for Yom HaShoah to honor the
many relatives on both sides of my family who were murdered. I think
it is a great place for you to begin, but be forewarned, for a very slim
book it carries a huge punch. Go to a bookseller or library and find a
chronicle of the Holocaust called The Seventh Well by Fred Wander, a
French Jew who was in 25 different work camps. That and Night, by
the social justice advocate Elie Weisel, are my two favorites for
intimate portrayals of day to day life in concentration camps. Another,
far more cerebral but very much about the 20 th century post-war
diaspora, is called The Lost, by Daniel Mendelsohn, a Yale humanities
professor, who tracks down survivors of a small Polish town that a
deceased great-uncle was from.



There is a wealth of Holocaust literature, movies, art, and memoir. It
is very easy to feel overwhelmed, because the scale of murder and
suffering was so great. In addition to educating yourself, be sure to
think about other people you know who might not have the same
family history but might be as ignorant and innocent as you might
have been without what you learned about your family. We must all be
vigilant to avoid allowing the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism, in
Europe but also right here in America, to create conditions where
being targeted simply because of one’s religion can be seen as
anything other than repugnant.