Reading the holocaust

Reading the holocaust

The death of Gitta Sereny a couple of weeks ago, and recently finishing watching the World at War on DVD, both reminded me of reading a number of excellent fiction and non-fiction books on the Holocaust.

Albert Speer: His battle with truth by Gitta Sereny is a gripping and chilling examination of the man who began life as an architect and became a member of Hitler’s inner circle. He was one of the few senior Nazi Ministers to accept responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi regime at the Nuremberg trials and afterwards, yet the extent to which he knew about the Holocaust is still the subject of controversy. What is particularly chilling about the book is the way it is written. Based on years of conversations between author and subject in which they grew to respect and like each other, it comes across at times as sympathetic to Speer, putting you as the reader in a morally uncomfortable position.

In terms of fiction, two of the best books I have read about the aftermath of the Holocaust are Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels and The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert.

Fugitive Pieces is one of those books that completely captivated me when I read it and left me with a strong sense of having been affected by it, whilst not being able to remember the details without picking it up and reminding myself. It’s beautifully written by someone with a true understanding of how to use language (unsurprisingly perhaps, given the author is a poet). It’s about how the experience of surviving the Holocaust affected the rest of the protagonist’s life, and about the extent to which you can ever leave the past behind.

The Dark Room deals with the experience of children coming to terms with the crimes committed by their parents during the Holocaust, a perspective I would never otherwise have thought about. It challenges you to think about how Germans have dealt with the public sense of guilt and how it has affected them as a nation.

I know reading about the Holocaust is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m glad such great books are still being written in our day, so that we don’t forget.