There are literally thousands of books on Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, later renamed the ‘Holocaust’ in the 1960’s, both first-person accounts and scholarly studies. One thing that always bothered Henry was that they were classified and filed in the bookstore as ‘Jewish Studies.’ For Henry, who wasn’t Jewish, well, he just never fit in.
I asked him once if he ever went to a ‘survivors’ group.’ He said yes . . . once . . . but he did not feel welcomed because he wasn’t Jewish. He never went back. In Poland, former ‘Auschwitzers’ (meaning political prisoners), were well respected as survivors. Poles knew firsthand what their country had endured. In the States, where the war wasn’t experienced firsthand, most people just weren’t interested in anything Polish or wartime-related. I don’t know if he ever sought out the local Polish community or not; I never thought to ask him.
In my particular case, when I looked for stories similar to Henry’s, e.g. Polish political prisoner, I found two (in English.) I’m sure there are more, especially in Polish – but I don’t speak Polish. I have found no accounts by a Jehovah’s Witness or Soviet POW; they may be out there – I just haven’t found them.
With that said, as I think of Henry and Poland, there are two books that I personally recommend as well-written, readable and interesting reading, (if you haven’t had enough concentration camp yet.)
All But My Life, by Gerda Weissmann Klein, first published in 1957. I somehow found this book while I was meeting with Henry. I loaned it to Henry, perhaps because the author was born in Poland in 1924. Henry’s exact words a week later were ‘Excellent. That’s exactly how it was.’ The author lives in Phoenix, Arizona and I have seen her featured in the Arizona Republic several times through the years. One time I had the opportunity to attend a YWCA luncheon where she was the guest speaker. This woman would be a great storyteller in any language. I remain forever impressed with how she can communicate so much in a few words, one story at a time. Good writing is ‘show, don’t tell.’ She shows. Count me a forever fan for many reasons.
Night, by Elie Wiesel, first published in 1972 (new translation 2006 by Marion Wiesel.) The book is a Holocaust classic, for good reason. Elie Wiesel is an acclaimed author of more than forty books and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Like Henry he was sent to both Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Though I had read it many years ago, I reread it recently, especially knowing so much more than I did ten years ago. The book is a slim volume, a mere 115 pages, appropriate for middle school and up. It’s actually part of a Trilogy – Night, Dawn and Day. Even the author says, in the preface to the latest translation “If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one.”