Part biography, part tribute, and all heart, Jori Epstein’s book recounts the story of Holocaust survivor Max Glauben. Epstein follows Max from his childhood in pre-war Poland to his calling as a seasoned octogenarian educator in Texas, juxtaposing the terrors he experienced as a youth with his quest to thrive and develop meaning from his past.
Readers who are familiar with survivor narratives will appreciate Epstein’s relatively sparse description of the horrors Glauben endured. She maintains the focus on his specific journey, first as a young teen in the Warsaw Ghetto and then as a prisoner in several concentration camps. Because of his family’s newspaper, Glauben’s story provides a unique opportunity to understand how information spread in Warsaw’s Jewish community, up to and including the Ghetto uprising. Epstein balances the need to explain how Glauben, a boy with exactly the right carpentry skills at a particular moment, manages to survive with the importance of giving enough detail and context to allow readers to understand how his story is connected to the greater historical events that shape it.
Another element that stands out is how Epstein’s description of Glauben’s emergence as a Holocaust educator reflects the development of the broader field of Holocaust education. In learning about how Glauben began to talk to his family, especially his grandchildren, and to younger generations of Jews about the Holocaust, readers can trace the timeline and opportunities that developed for survivors to share their stories. Epstein effectively illustrates Glauben’s narrative and why it is so important for it to be documented. Her ability to capture the distinct voices of Glauben as he talks about his motivations for doing this work, and the voices of his family, the students, teachers, and community members who listen to him make this section of the book especially engaging and relatable.
Epstein’s straightforward writing style makes this book easily accessible to older high school students and introductory college courses about the Holocaust. As Jewish educators and community leaders face their inheritance of survivor accounts and monuments, a close reading of Epstein’s work is an elegant way for them to explore how they will honor and safeguard these legacies. This book stands as a testament to the courage and character of Max Glauben, honoring the memory of his family and his hope for a better world for future generations.
Deborah Miller received rabbinical ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter, where she serves as a hospice chaplain and teacher.