Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures

A few days ago, I was slowly trying to drag myself out of bed, and my eye fell upon this book on the bookshelf. It had been awhile since I'd looked at it, and honestly I had forgotten it was there. I pulled it down and started flipping through it, and suddenly remembered what an incredible reference book it was. My first thought was "I have to tell James about this...maybe it would make a good Wednesday Wonder." As many of you may know, C.B. James features a special kind of book each Wednesday...one that you don't necessarily read cover-to-cover, but entertaining nonetheless. As it worked out, he did decide to feature my post today on his blog!

The Holocaust Chronicle is a not-for-profit effort...a massive 750+ page collaboration by scholars, authors and experts in the field, with the intent of "providing students and lay people the basic facts of the Holocaust and its roots of development". I chuckled to myself at the use of the word basic, because from my viewpoint, this is anything but basic.

The stage is set in the prologue, with the roots of the Holocaust, starting in 1500 B.C. and moving through history. It is a shocking reminder that the Jews have been persecuted since nearly the beginning of time. From there, the overall structure of the book is a timeline. Along the bottom of each page are bullet-point events in chronological order, from 1933 to 1946. To support the timeline and fill in the cracks, each page contains photos, letters, propaganda posters, and mini-biographies of not only the "players" in the Nazi regime, but the unsung stories of the victims. There are, in fact, over 2,000 photos, some from private collections, archives and other from official documents. Here are some examples:

These two pictures are German propaganda. The one on the left is of "happy Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto". I won't show you the real pictures in that Ghetto - they are way too disturbing. The picture on the right is a demonstration of the Nazi's desire to keep the Aryan race pure...mixed race on the left, healthy Aryan youth on the right. It amazes me that not only did the Germans feel these types of brainwashing were effective, but that they were!

These are all photos from three of thousands of compelling stories in the book. The first picture on the left is the official ID card of Cyrla Rosenweig, a "Schindler Jew" and survivor. The center picture is of Maximilian Kolbe, and one of my favorite stories. He was a Polish-Catholic priest that was imprisoned in Auschwitz, and sacrificed his life for one of his fellow prisoners that had a family. This prisoner went on to survive the camp, and until his death, traveled the world to tell the story. Kolbe was made a saint in 1982. Seriously, Google this guy. The story is unforgettable. The picture on your far right is of Jan Harski. Harski was a gentile that wanted the world to know what was happening to Jews in Poland. He disguised himself as a Jew and entered the Warsaw ghetto. He also impersonated a guard and entered a death camp. From both experiences, he gave eye-witness accounts of the atrocities, and, driven by his sense of urgency, traveled to Washington to address President Franklin Roosevelt. Someone needs to make a movie of this gentleman.

I found myself educated by this book with regards to not only the atrocities we have all heard of, like Treblinka, Auschwitz, the Warsaw ghetto, etc.. There is also documentation of the slaughter at Ejszyszki, Lithuania, in Babi Yar, Ukraine, Serbia, many of the Baltic countries, Scandinavia, and Britain. These are the events you hear nothing about.

Interestingly, the publisher of this book also has a corresponding website at
http://www.holocaustchronicle.org/. Everything that is in the book is on the website. You certainly don't get the same impact as looking at the real thing, but is still available as an excellent reference.

This is not a bit of light reading. Not something you want to put on your coffee table. The pictures do not shelter you from the graphic ugliness of the Holocaust. Some of them can be grotesque, heartbreaking and sickening, and I cannot look at the book for too long. At the same time, it is an expansive piece of work that deserves a spot on the shelf of every person with an interest in this topic.


Beth F said...

What an excellent post. Very moving and very well written; it's such a difficult topic.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Thanks Beth! Well, its not a post that was easy to write. It is a huge book, and you can't look at it too long, so it took some days to make my way through it, to be sure I captured the essence. Still, I am glad I have it on my shelf,

Melody said...

Great post, Sandy! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on them. So dark and moving!

Melody said...

Oh, I mean the holocast issue is dark... not your post, Sandy! ;P

Anna said...

Sounds like a very informative book. I'd like to read it some time. I just watched a docudrama about Hermann Goering last night, and let me tell you, if he's supposed to be an example of the "master race" I don't want any part of it. I'm talking looks-wise, and the picture in your post made me think about this. The guy was an overweight drug addict, not the nice fit man like the one in the propaganda posters. The more I learn about the Nazis and the Holocaust, the more I'm dumbfounded, disturbed, and saddened. You really can't put it into words.

Great review! I posted it here on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

Sandy Nawrot said...

Thanks Anna! You can get a good feel for the book at the website in my post, but it still isn't quite the same as holding this tome in your hands. I think the Nazi regime was extremely hypocritical...I mean, look at Hitler. Aryan, my tookus.

Unknown said...

I think you're getting more traffic than me, now. ;-)

Thanks again for your Wednesday Wonder. It's fun to have guest posts.

I may send you a photo for wordless Wednesday sometime....

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love doing guest posts for you James! I'll have to seriously study my shelves for another Wednesday Wonder to do someday. By all means, send on your pictures. I like doing the Wordless Wednesdays...I have archives of great pictures that just sit there unappreciated. Plus they are easy to do!