I first became aware of Cold Cre­ma­to­ri­um, my uncle’s inti­mate Holo­caust nar­ra­tive, when I was a young child. I couldn’t help but notice the book that was often rev­er­ent­ly tak­en from a book­shelf in our apart­ment in Bel­grade, the cap­i­tal of the for­mer Yugoslavia. It was a slim vol­ume — not much longer than two hun­dred pages — and was almost lost among the many heavy tomes of Marx­ist ide­ol­o­gy that were con­sid­ered manda­to­ry for my father, who served as an offi­cial of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of the then-social­ist Yugoslavia.

Only lat­er did I under­stand that the sto­ry in this lit­tle” book had a pro­found influ­ence on our fam­i­ly. It shaped my iden­ti­ty. I was bare­ly aware that the author was Uncle Józsi, my father’s elder broth­er who had adopt­ed the pen name Debreczeni. Both my uncle and my father were born in Budapest but fled to neigh­bor­ing Yugoslavia fol­low­ing the anti-Jew­ish vio­lence of post – World War I. Cold Cre­ma­to­ri­um was writ­ten in Hun­gar­i­an, the lan­guage with which my uncle remained the most com­fort­able through­out his life.

By the time I was a teenag­er, my father often shared his frus­tra­tion that he’d been unsuc­cess­ful in hav­ing the work accept­ed by Amer­i­can pub­lish­ers in the 1950s, dur­ing his post­ing as a Yugoslav diplo­mat in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Amer­i­can pub­lish­ers, influ­enced by the atmos­phere of the Cold War and McCarthy­ism, had no inter­est in a work in which Sovi­et sol­diers were shown as the lib­er­a­tors of Nazi camps. My father was par­tic­u­lar­ly pained by the atti­tude of Jew­ish Amer­i­can pub­lish­ers, who were pet­ri­fied of inflam­ing antisemitism.

I would read the book and often need­ed to put it down because it had such an emo­tion­al impact. At times like that, I would vow to myself, The world must know. There are mil­lions of sto­ries that will nev­er be told, but for this one, I can make a dif­fer­ence. Of course, try­ing to pub­lish a Hun­gar­i­an nov­el writ­ten by an unknown — and now deceased — author after more than sev­en­ty years was a daunt­ing undertaking.

Don’t peo­ple know about the Holo­caust?” even well-mean­ing friends would ask. In fact, only the bare bones of the Holo­caust are known by most Baby Boomers; younger gen­er­a­tions are aware of even less. How many peo­ple know about the sys­tem of hun­dreds of con­cen­tra­tion camps, the sys­tem­at­ic use of slave labor where death was the only escape, and the role of major Ger­man com­pa­nies who used these slaves — com­pa­nies whose prod­ucts we still use every day? How many peo­ple know about the com­plic­i­ty of the local pop­u­la­tions through­out Europe in WWII, or the emer­gence of Holo­caust amne­sia” that start­ed even before the ash­es of the cre­ma­to­ria had cooled?

It was appar­ent to me that the only way to get pub­lish­ers inter­est­ed was to demon­strate the extra­or­di­nary lit­er­ary mer­it of the work. I was not dis­ap­point­ed with my choice of trans­la­tor: as The Times of Lon­don not­ed, Paul Olchváry, an award-win­ning and high­ly accom­plished trans­la­tor of Hun­gar­i­an lit­er­a­ture, has ren­dered Debreczeni’s prose into a lit­er­ary dia­mond — sharp-edged and crys­tal clear. Like the works of Pri­mo Levi and Vasi­ly Gross­man, this is a haunt­ing chron­i­cle of rare, unset­tling power.”

Paul and I worked close­ly for almost a year, com­mu­ni­cat­ing week­ly, often dai­ly, and ago­niz­ing over indi­vid­ual words and phras­es. Trans­lat­ing lit­er­ary prose inevitably requires inter­pre­ta­tion. A spe­cial chal­lenge was to make the text sound fresh to an Anglo­phone audi­ence with­out com­pro­mis­ing its authenticity.

Writ­ten many decades ago, this book could not be more rel­e­vant to the present. My uncle was eeri­ly pre­scient about the dia­bol­i­cal ways in which the Holo­caust could be nor­mal­ized,” rather than rec­og­nized as a unique crime in which a mod­ern indus­tri­al state attempt­ed — and large­ly suc­ceed­ed in Europe — to anni­hi­late an entire peo­ple. He also would have been appalled, but like­ly not sur­prised, to hear white suprema­cists and neo-Nazis deny the Holo­caust, or the pres­i­dent of the Pales­tin­ian Author­i­ty claim — in front of the Ger­man chan­cel­lor, no less — that Pales­tini­ans had suf­fered fifty Holocausts.”

József Debreczeni wasn’t famil­iar with the say­ings Nev­er for­get” and Nev­er again,” but he would have sure­ly said Amen.” As I hold one of his pens, I can only try to imag­ine how pleased he would be to know that Cold Cre­ma­to­ri­um will be avail­able in fif­teen lan­guages by Jan­u­ary 2025, the eight­i­eth anniver­sary of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz.

Alexan­der Bruner is the nephew of József Debreczeni and a for­mer inter­na­tion­al man­age­ment con­sul­tant and fundrais­er. A child of Holo­caust sur­vivors from Yugoslavia, he lec­tures to edu­ca­tion­al, social, polit­i­cal and com­mu­ni­ty groups on top­ics relat­ed to Israel, the Mid­dle East, anti­semitism, and the his­to­ry of the Jew­ish peo­ple. He holds a BS in chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land and an MBA from Har­vard Busi­ness School.