Sunday the 27th is the annual Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK. Verso presents this collection of books by which we hope to mark the occasion.
The first, Boy 30529, by the late Felix Weinberg, is both a moving memoir and a contemporary study published this year. From the age of twelve the author was held in the camps of Terezin, Auschwitz and Birkenau, but it is not until the age of 82 that he decided to set his memories to paper. In doing so Weinberg affords profound reflections on the misrepresentation of the Holocaust in popular memory and, perhaps surprisingly, occasional flashes of humor and wit.
“History is necessarily written by the survivors, but at its core it is the story of the victims. It is always liable to distortion because anyone who survived the extermination camps must have an untypical story to tell. The typical camp history of millions ended in death, and could therefore never be told in the first person …We, the few who survived the war and the majority who perished in the camps, did not use and would not have understood terms such as ‘holocaust’ or ‘death march’. These were coined later, by outsiders.”
Norman Finklestein writes on how interpretations of the Holocaust have been manipulated and bent for political gain in his book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. Finklestein asks us to consider the history of this memory and its use by those close to power and warring national interests.
Continuing in a similar vein Shlomo Sand discusses the part memory plays in forming Jewish and national identity in his book The Invention of The Jewish People. The book has proved controversial but can be seen as a critique of Israeli nationalism and an effort towards a true internationalism.
Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare Stateby Gtöz Aly provides an economic explanation for the popularity of the Third Reich that rests on Aly’s groundbreaking research into secret files and financial records. Aly contends that by channeling the proceeds of looting and robbery into generous social programs, Hitler literally ‘bought’ his people’s consent.
And finally, Primo Levi’s original Auschwitz Report is undoubtedly a powerful statement on this history.While in a Russian-administered holding camp in Katowice, Poland, in 1945, Levi was asked to provide a report on living conditions in Auschwitz. Published the following year, it was then forgotten, and until republished by Verso has remained unknown to a wider public.
It details the author's deportation to Auschwitz, selections for work and extermination, everyday life in the camp, and the organization and working of the gas chambers. It constitutes Levi's first, astonishingly lucid attempts to come to terms with the raw horror of events that would drive him to create some of the greatest works of twentieth-century literature and testimony.
More information on the day itself, including events taking place across the country, can be found here.