The Upstander: How Sur­viv­ing the Holo­caust Sparked Max Glauben’s Mis­sion to Dis­man­tle Hate

September 1, 2020

Holo­caust sur­vivor Max Glauben is on a mis­sion: to out­last hate, to pre­serve mem­o­ry, and to com­pel the world to embrace tolerance.

The stench of decay pierced the air aboard the box­car of trapped Jews. Why me?” fif­teen-year-old Max asked him­self, as a con­voy rum­bled from the War­saw Ghet­to to Maj­danek death camp in May 1943.

The del­uge of ques­tions inten­si­fied as the Nazis mur­dered Max’s moth­er, father, and broth­er. Max chan­neled grit, deter­mi­na­tion, and a for­tu­itous knack for car­pen­try to survive.

This mem­oir explores Max’s mis­chie­vous child­hood and teen years as a go-to ghet­to smug­gler. Max jour­neys from dis­placed per­son to Amer­i­can immi­grant. He reveals how he ached as he dared to court love and rear chil­dren. For decades, he bot­tled up his trau­ma. Then he real­ized: He could trans­form his pain into purpose.

Infused with raw emo­tion and vivid detail, his­tor­i­cal records and Max’s poignant voice, The Upstander relays Max’s pow­er­ful life­time com­mit­ment to thwart­ing hate and gal­va­niz­ing resilience. Max no longer asks, Why me?” Instead, he asks: What can we do next?”

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Jori Epstein

  1. Before read­ing The Upstander, what did you expect to learn and feel from a Holo­caust mem­oir? In what ways did The Upstander sur­prise you or align with your expectations?

  2. Why is Max’s mem­oir — and Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture in gen­er­al — impor­tant to study today? Do you think Max’s tes­ti­mo­ny is his­tor­i­cal­ly notable, rel­e­vant to our con­tem­po­rary soci­ety or both?

  3. The author guides read­ers through Max’s child­hood hob­bies and rela­tion­ships. How did the char­ac­ter he devel­oped as a young boy influ­ence his expe­ri­ence in the ghet­to and con­cen­tra­tion camp?

  4. When Max was 13 years old, his fam­i­ly was forced into the War­saw Ghet­to con­fines. As a teenag­er, he wit­nessed star­va­tion, dis­ease and mur­der. What did you learn from Max’s insight on page 32, say­ing: There is a cer­tain amount of shock that can hit you. And then it keeps on hit­ting and hit­ting and hit­ting, and there’s a sat­u­ra­tion point”?

  5. In Chap­ter 7, after Max and his fam­i­ly are forcibly trans­port­ed to Maj­danek death camp, his imme­di­ate fam­i­ly is killed in a span of three weeks. Max is deter­mined: I must, even as a kid, con­tin­ue my name,” he says on page 48. I don’t want — could not — give them the sat­is­fac­tion of killing me. I’d do any­thing to out­smart them.” Think about a time in your life you were deter­mined to chase a goal. Why was that goal impor­tant to you? What did you learn about your­self in that pursuit?

  6. The Upstander cites sev­er­al orig­i­nal doc­u­ments. Read­ers learn from Nazi records detail­ing Max’s trans­ports between labor camps; case­work­er papers ana­lyz­ing his psy­che upon immi­gra­tion to Amer­i­ca; and let­ters Max and his uncle attempt­ed to send each oth­er in the 1940s. How did those resources influ­ence your expe­ri­ence read­ing and pro­cess­ing Max’s testimony?

  7. The Upstander doesn’t begin in 1939 nor end in 1945. Rather, Max explains his pre-war youth and post­war recla­ma­tion. How did under­stand­ing Max’s life before and after the war shape your per­cep­tion of the Holocaust’s impact on sur­vivors and our society?

  8. On pages 115 – 16, Max’s chil­dren dis­cuss how spar­ing­ly they knew Max’s tes­ti­mo­ny dur­ing their child­hood. By page 129, in 2005, Max had piv­ot­ed so sig­nif­i­cant­ly he was guid­ing stu­dent groups through con­cen­tra­tion camps. Why do you think he shel­tered his chil­dren at first? Why do you think he even­tu­al­ly opened up? Con­sid­er your own life: If you were in Max’s posi­tion, how would you han­dle that decision?

  9. Despite the hor­rif­ic injus­tices the Nazis per­pe­trat­ed, Max doesn’t spend time chan­nel­ing anger or hatred toward them or any­one. The hater is the one who gets the short end of the stick,” he says on page 160. Do you agree with Max’s per­spec­tive on the futil­i­ty of hate? How can you apply that les­son to your life today?

  10. Study­ing the hor­rors of the Holo­caust, and Max’s sub­se­quent emo­tion­al trau­ma, chal­lenges us emo­tion­al­ly. And yet, Max infus­es charm and humor into his life and tes­ti­mo­ny. What was your favorite moment of joy, laugh­ter or wit?

  11. The author’s note con­cludes on page 172:
    If you have any hatred, big­otry or anti­semitism,” Max implores, I hope that after you read this book, you might change your mind.” Now, you are a wit­ness and an upstander.
    Did this mem­oir change your mind in any way? If so, how?

  12. After com­plet­ing the mem­oir, how would you define the word upstander”? What’s one way you want to car­ry on Max’s lega­cy as an upstander?