I bought this book for my Kindle before my trip to Eastern Europe, fully intending to have it read before I even made it to Poland. Instead, between all of the activities on the trip and my inability to focus and read on the coach, I barely made it through a few chapters. So in the months when I got back, I feverishly made my way through it, now having visited and stayed in a lot of Poland and having learned that it’s now an over 90% Catholic-populated country, not because everyone suddenly had some sort of religious conversion, but because Hitler eradicated almost the entire Jewish-Polish population from what used to be a very highly Jewish populated country. Knowing that horrifying fact going in to completing this book only made it that much more saddening, maddening and poignant.
A brief synopsis of the book (Amazon can probably do a much better job than I can but here it goes) is the author found a film that was his grandfather’s (now deceased) that portrayed his and his grandmother’s visit to Europe right before World War II. In that film was 3 minutes of footage of people from a town with a large Jewish population called Nasielsk in Poland. As Glenn works to discover who everyone is that appears in these 3 short minutes, histories, personal stories and the atrocities of the Holocaust that was only a short time away when the film was made, come to light. Through various interviews with many of the few remaining survivors from the Holocaust that were from Nasielsk, a powerful story and dark history are revealed.
I wish I could put in to words how powerful this book is. I was brought to tears on more than one occasion reading what Jewish people not only had to endure in the days leading up to them being sent to the ghettos and then ultimately concentration camps, but what people faced who did survive. They were left with no family, no homes and no property because the Nazis had either seized it or the non-Jewish Poles had taken over their homes or businesses. One of the people Glenn talks to the most, Morry, avoided the camps altogether but still had horrible memories of what it was like just to try to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. The lengths he had to go through. Out of the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives at Treblinka, only 70 (yes 7-0) people survived.
I’ve studied and read up a lot on the Holocaust and on World War II. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about and something I think everyone else should be too. If we don’t keep the memory and the stories alive, no matter how horrifying, then we’ll never be able to keep working to ensure this never happens again. The Holocaust wasn’t just Hitler’s doing, it took millions of people across Europe to allow him to get away with mercilessly murdering so many people. They had to buy into what he said, to enlist as a Nazi, or to do what a lot of the Polish people did which was to help the Nazis in “rounding up” the Jewish people in towns like Nasielsk and ultimately send them to their death, right before taking their homes and businesses. My point in saying all that was that it was a grand scale operation, something that for me, makes it even more horrifying. So in equal measure, the awareness and education of all us as human beings on the subject needs to be grand scale also.
This book is a great resource for not just educating people about how World War II and Nazism affected Poland but it’s also just a transcendent tale of the human spirit. A story about family, about friends, and what ties us together. I can say with absolutely certainty I haven’t a read book that moved me this much in a long time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.