Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review: Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust by Hedi Fried

The generation who lived through the atrocities of WWII is aging and dwindling. Their stories are too important to disappear with them because they remind us of the evil man is capable of, the horrific tragedy of genocide, and ultimately of the resilience and hope of the human spirit. They give us first person insights that personalize the abstract, making the truth immediate. It is impossible to look away in the face of such stories. Hedi Fried has spent years teaching young people about the Holocaust and her experiences in Auschwitz and other labor camps. In Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust, she has gathered common questions and her answers to them together in one place, addressing the inhumanity of what was done to millions of people, the motivations behind this evil, and how she lives her life now with such horror in her past.

Fried has previously written an autobiography so this memoir is very different, both in form and in function. This is meant as a teaching tool, an aide to ensure that something like the Holocaust can never happen again to anyone anywhere. It is set up in a question and answer format. The questions are pretty basic and the short answers are interesting and informative. Sometimes there isn't an answer, per se, but only speculation and guesswork, especially for the more philosophical questions. Questions range from "Were you always hungry?" to "Did you dream at night?" to "How could an entire people get behind Hitler?" and "Do you hate the Germans?" The answers are easily understood and processed by younger readers. They are honest and unflinching and they boil down Fried's experiences to their very essence without needing to describe every detail to get the point across.

The questions and answers range across Fried's entire life, drawing a picture of her family's existence before the war to contrast with what they endured during the war. She shares her purpose in life now, finding her voice as a way to reconcile surviving when so many others didn't. While it is not the last question in the book, one that really resonates is "Are you able to forgive?" combined with its answer, "This is a question I've thought about often, until I realised that you do not have to think in those terms. What has been done may not be undone, time cannot be turned back, those who are gone will never come again. Today we have to look to the future. What we can do today is work to make sure that it never happens again." Words we would all do to remember forever. This is not a traditionally written memoir and it is clearly geared towards younger readers.  The format makes it easy to dip and out of but also easy to set aside for a while.  It is simply written and described and there's no linear narrative but as one woman's first person experiences and feelings, it is invaluable.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me this book for review.

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