Thousands of books have been produced on the subject of the Holocaust, from large historical tomes to psychoanalyses of the Nazis. Every aspect of this horrible tragedy has been examined from every conceivable angle, held up to the light, and dissected again. It is unlikely that historians a generation or two from now will come up with any fresh perspectives, such is the state of the extant literature.
Yet despite all these volumes, it is likely that only a few will stand the test of time and be remembered fifty years hence. And I think the most likely survivors, if you will, will be those that are personal in nature, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, which describes in everyday language the plight of one family in Holland. Its elegance lies in its poignancy.
The current volume, Auschwitz Report, tells a comparable story, that of the Italian writer Primo Levi in Auschwitz at the end of the war. “Asked” by the Russians, for political reasons, to describe concentration camp conditions, Levi does so in a straightforward, here-are-the-facts manner. There is no need for embellishment or sustained literary style; the facts are the story, and nothing more is required. Trying to tidy up or “spin” the disgusting, primitive conditions of the camps would be a disservice.
For any teacher who wants his/her students to learn about the Holocaust, and to get a feel for what went on, a 600-page comprehensive history is not necessary. This thin volume, less than 100 pages, describing in stark detail the everyday life and inhumane medical conditions of the concentration camp victim, is plenty. The story is harrowing in its sparse literary style. Its elegance also lies in its poignancy.