Mike Sims

The Holocaust in Literature

“Literature is the Pathos to History’s Logos” – Menachem Kaiser

"For the dead and the living, we must bear witness."--Elie Wiesel
“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”–Elie Wiesel

“Memoirs, even Holocaust memoirs, might be properly understood as, or at least overlapping with, literature. This is no downgrade. Literature is supplementary, not antithetical, to history: it allows, and in the best instances demands readers to universalize, empathize, to visualize and imagine, not merely to be informed.”  – Menachem Kasier

The Holocaust is an event which should always be taken seriously, that is very true. However, the passage from the article above outlines beautifully my stance on the matter. Literature is there not for the sake of disrespecting the awful events that took place; rather, it’s there to provide a pathos for these events. That’s not to say a mockery of history hasn’t been made, but we as people can tell the difference between defilement vs respecting the past.

Books like The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Zookeeper’s Wife, Boy in the Wooden Book, The Pianist, and The Diary of Anne Frank have all transcended the peak of human emotion, giving readers feelings, extracting their very souls with each and every word. A chilling memory will become an indelible image upon the reader’s mind once they reach that last page. A story that provides such raw potency is a service rather than an insult. I believe what Menachem Kaiser was simply stating was that certain stories about the Holocaust can pull imagination from the very depths of reality, intertwining all our common senses to life. “Literature reminds us that significance isn’t time-dependent, that empathy isn’t delimited by proximity, that victims aren’t statistics.”  This quote from the last paragraph of the article is essentially everything that I believe when concerning myself with real life tragedy and fiction. People need stories to relate to in an emotional level.

Anne Frank

(Taken by the Frank Family)

The Diary of Anne Frank was edited by Anne herself, then further edited (and censored) by her father, Otto. (Later, playwrights cut and reworked passages for a decidedly more universal and cheery flavor. Diary, in book and stage form, is for many the primary (or only) exposure to the Holocaust, and serves as a cautionary demonstration of art’s role in shaping historical perspective.)” – Kaiser

I was only in 8th grade when I first read The Diary of Anne Frank, and perhaps no other Holocaust story has resonated more clearly than her story for me. Schindler’s List is definitely a close second, but I feel the nature of Frank’s story brings about a sad yet somehow beautiful meaning. Frank’s famous quotes  “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart” and “I don’t think of the misery, only the beauty that still remains” leave me questioning how a young girl was able to endure hell and yet somehow managed to see the positives of all things.

Kaiser’s brief passage about Frank provides context as to how and why her work has been published in different mediums. As Kaiser stated, her diary serves as an honest story that is both compelling and truthful, a “cautionary demonstration” to show perspective on the Holocaust’s history. Frank’s story is the most compelling because of how honest it was, and it was very relatable in most circumstances. For instance, the relationship with her family is something I can’t help but wonder. There were highs and lows for her during her two years of hiding in an attic. Something I myself can only begin to comprehend.

This iconic and unknown photo showcases  an excavator at Treblinka, a death camp. Out all concentration camps, Treblinka was arguably the worst of them all. I choose this photo because there’s something very ominous about it. In reality, the Nazis were burying the mass slaughter of those unfortunate enough to arrive at Treblinka. My grandfather, who was Jewish, would tell stories about the Holocaust, though he was lucky enough to evade the horror many such folks didn’t escape. My gramps, I believe, was only an infant when events occurred, but his knowledge of the topic rivals none. Out of all the stories he told, Treblinka was the one I could hardly stand hearing. In Treblinka, nearly a million were killed, almost as comparable as Auschwitz. However, the death ratio was even worse with only 60 survivors in all. I also chose this photo because it’s a stern reminder of how an event like the Holocaust needs to be remembered. Kaiser’s states the importance of this: “For the role of Holocaust literature—the eternal role of literature, period—is to make it new again, to make it real, to make it felt.” Whether it’s films, books, poetry, photos, etc., to tell a historical atrocity, one should deliver a wisp of emotion. That is something I believe is a great service to the victims of the Holocaust.

Works Cited

Kaiser, Menachem. “The Holocaust’s Uneasy Relationship With Literature.” The
    Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/12/
    the-holocaust’s-uneasy-relationship-with-literature/67998/. Accessed 30 Apr.


Pappas, Stephanie. “First-Ever Excavation of Nazi Death Camp Treblinka Reveals
    Horrors.” Live Science, 27 Mar. 2014, http://www.livescience.com/
    44443-treblinka-archaeological-excavation.html. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019.