Oh, hello there. In recent days, some of you have kindly sent messages checking up on me, wondering where the newsletter had gone. Let me assure you that I am still here, and that stories are in the works. It’s just taking a little time to transition from my old position at The Atlantic to my new one. But I hope to be back to bombarding your inboxes in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, I thought I would share some recommended reading for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed today. My hope is that these selections will help you cut through the overwhelming amount of material available, and give you something more digestible than a history book but more substantive than a movie. Please feel free to pass along your own selections to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Man Who Saved My Grandfather
Thousands of Jews were rescued from the Nazis by a Japanese diplomat named Chiune Sugihara, who went against the orders of his German-allied government to issue thousands of transit visas to desperate yeshiva students. My father’s father was one of them. Ten thousand Jewish children were saved by the Kindertransport initiative, which brought the youths to Great Britain. My mother’s mother was on the last train. Given this family background, I’ve unsurprisingly been fascinated by those people who decided to risk their lives and livelihoods for Jewish strangers. Danny Gold, one of the great conflict-zone reporters of our time, has a similar personal background. But he also had the benefit of getting to know the family that saved his own. This piece tells that story.
‘Once We Were Slaves, Now We Are Free’: The Passover Seder in Bergen-Belsen That Shaped My Family
It took courage for individuals to confront the Holocaust as it unfolded, but it also took tremendous courage for victims to rebuild after their faith in humanity had been so badly battered. In this article, Daniella Greenbaum Davis writes about how her grandparents met in the ashes of a concentration camp and experienced their own exodus through the ritual of the Passover seder.
How to Explain the Holocaust in One Simple Statistic
In discussions of the Holocaust, the numbers sometimes seem numbing. Two out of every three European Jews were murdered in the genocide. Entire centuries-old communities were exterminated. It is hard to grasp such slaughter. But I have found that one statistic does help capture the enormity of the atrocity: So many Jews were killed by the Nazis that the global Jewish population is still lower today than it was in 1939. After more than 80 years, the Jewish people still have not recovered demographically from the body blow inflicted on them.
How Not to Talk About the Holocaust
Is it ever appropriate to compare something to the Holocaust? How should we balance the Nazi genocide’s particular lessons about anti-Jewish prejudice with its universal lessons about bigotry toward all? On social media, you will often find very bad answers to these questions. In this essay, I tried to offer better ones.
The Good News About the Holocaust (Education) in America
One depressing Holocaust Memorial Day tradition is the release of polling showing how little younger generations seem to know about the Nazi genocide. But is that really the full story? In this newsletter, I place those surveys in the context of other studies of American public knowledge and uncover some surprisingly hopeful findings:
Americans demonstrate greater literacy about the Holocaust—an event that happened to a tiny fraction of the world’s population on a completely different continent—than they do about their own country’s institutions and history. More Americans can identify Auschwitz than their own branches of government. Tellingly, Americans across the ideological spectrum regularly make and debate Holocaust analogies, because its story is one of the few touchstones they all share. Far from a failure, Holocaust education in America has been a triumph, piercing the veil of civic ignorance that obscures so many other subjects in the popular consciousness.
What Comes After the Holocaust
If your primary knowledge of Jews comes from Hollywood movies, you might think that Jewish history of consequence ended with the Holocaust. But it decidedly didn’t. Despite Hitler’s best efforts, the Jewish community reconstituted itself—particularly in America and Israel—and revitalized Jewish life. No observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day would be complete without acknowledging and celebrating this essential fact. Every Jew who adds something Jewish to the world continues this work.
I’ve written previously about how my grandfather, a hasidic composer whose melodies from the Holocaust era are still sung today, inspired me to compose and perform my own original Jewish music. So I wanted to end this newsletter with the release of a new lyric video for the opening track on my recent album. The title is Yedid Nefesh, or “Soulmate,” and the centuries-old words are traditionally sung at the start and close of the Sabbath:
Wishing you all a shabbat shalom,