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January 22, 2024

Never Again: Books to Read this Holocaust Remembrance Day

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on Jan. 27 every year, a date that marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration and death camps. There are many ways to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, such as attending commemorative events, lighting candles and, most importantly, learning about and educating others about the Holocaust. With antisemitism rising at a staggering rate internationally, it is critical that Jews and non-Jews alike take the time to remember the Holocaust. Given recent campus events from last semester, it is incredibly important that Cornellians especially take the time to think about this form of hatred and make sure it does not return to our campus. It is only if everyone joins together in calling for “never again” that we can be sure that something like the Holocaust can never happen again. If you wish to dedicate time to learning or thinking about the Holocaust this remembrance day, keep reading. 

Included below are book recommendations for people of all ages, spanning many genres. Despite the different types of books, there is a common theme between all of those chosen for this list. Instead of the more well-known Holocaust books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel — which are, of course, critical reads — you may not have heard of the books below. This is because I wanted to include books which will leave you with at least a shred of belief in humanity after you are finished. These will not be easy reads — the Holocaust is inevitably a hard topic to grapple with — but each of these books tells the story of someone, real or fictional, who took a stand against the Holocaust or Holocaust misinformation. These are books about everyday people who became heroes, who proved that even one person can do so much good. I firmly believe that each of these books are ones that everyone should read at least once in their lifetimes, especially now. 

Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family

Anne Frank Remembered is the singular most important book I have ever read, besides perhaps the book it is related to: The Diary of a Young Girl. An autobiography by the woman who hid Anne Frank, Miep Gies, and her family, Elie Wiesel called the book, “A poignant account, vibrating with humanity.” Anne Frank Remembered will make your heart break at the cruelty of the world — you should come prepared with tissues — but it will also make you marvel at the unbelievable goodness of members of humanity, in particular the astounding Gies. 

There is arguably no one more inspiring than Gies. The book begins with the story of her childhood. Gies was born in Vienna just before the First World War. Afterwards, the people of war-torn Austria were plunged into famine, leading many children to be sent to other European countries to recover from malnutrition. Among these children was 11-year-old Gies, who was sent to the Netherlands, where she ended up remaining indefinitely with her adopted family. When Gies was older, her job at an office in Amsterdam led her to cross paths, and become friends, with Otto Frank. Through this friendship, Gies met and came to love Frank’s daughter Anne. 

When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and it became apparent that Jews like the Franks were no longer safe, Gies did not hesitate to hide the Frank family. The Franks were her good friends, and Gies, from her difficult childhood, understood how important it was to offer help to those in need. But Gies did not only hide the Franks; they were joined by an associate of Otto Frank and his family, as well as a Jewish doctor — a total of eight people in hiding — in a secret annex in Gies and Frank’s office building. During this time, Gies and her husband, Jan Gies, were also hiding a Christian college student in their own house, who was in danger for refusing to sign an oath saying that he would not act against the German army. Anne Frank Remembered is the story of how, for over two years, Miep Gies and her associates in the office provided food, news and friendship to those in the annex, using forged ration cards, the black market and incredible bravery. 

Despite Gies and the others’ best efforts, the hidden Jews, as well as two of the office workers who hid them, were arrested by the Nazis in August of 1944. After these horrible events, Gies snuck back into the hiding place and collected all of Anne Frank’s writings. It is thanks to Gies that the world was ever able to read the writings of the brilliant Anne Frank. 

Gies was incredibly brave and kind, but she makes certain throughout her book to get across that she was not alone. In the prologue of Anne Frank Remembered, Gies writes, “I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more — much more — during those dark and terrible times … More than twenty thousand Dutch people helped to hide Jews and others in need of hiding during those years. I willingly did what I could to help. My husband did as well. It was not enough.” 

History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier

History on Trial, also known as Denial, is a nonfiction, autobiographical book by Deborah E. Lipstadt, an American historian and diplomat. Though this book takes place half a century after the Holocaust, it is undeniably an incredibly important read, detailing the ongoing fight against Holocaust misinformation. The book covers the 1996 case, Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd, in which David Irving, a prominent Holocaust denier, sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel after she called him a denier in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust. This case took place in English court, where the burden of proof falls on the defendant, meaning Lipstadt had to prove her claims that Irving skewed evidence to support his ideology — an ideology aimed at exonerating Hitler of his crimes. The book details Lipstadt and her team’s journey to support her statements, and prove Irving’s many claims about the Holocaust to be false. 

Despite being a nonfiction book that dives deep into facts and legal jargon, History on Trial is an incredibly engaging read. While the book primarily focuses on the trial, it also covers Lipstadt’s fascinating life before this case, such as her 1967 trip through Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to visit the Old City of Jerusalem at a time when Jews were banned from doing so, as well as a 1972 mission aimed at helping oppressed Jews escape the USSR. History on Trial deservingly won the National Jewish Book Award and was critically acclaimed by many, such as Newsweek International who called the book, “Compelling … Lipstadt’s vigorous account is a window into a Jewish community still grappling with the loss of more than six million souls.” The book is dedicated by Lipstadt to “the victims of the Shoah, and to those who enabled me — in so many different ways — to fight the attempt to ravage their history and memory.”

In this book, Lipstadt definitively proves that Irving was one of these people who attempted to destroy the history and memory of the Holocaust and its victims. Irving was found to have created a “knotted web of distortions, suppressions, and manipulations …. ” He, and other deniers, were proven to “distort, falsify, and pervert the historical record and, consequently, fall entirely outside of the parameters of any historical debate about the Holocaust.” However, before Lipstadt’s case — and, unfortunately, even afterwards — many listened to and believed Irving’s words. Lipstadt’s book is a critical read which looks into the danger of our present-day society, where some will believe anything they read, no matter how absurd and unfounded, especially when motivated by barely concealed antisemitism. 

Number the Stars

The Holocaust is a very important topic, and it is critical that it is discussed beginning at an early age. However, it is also important, of course, that books given to children are age appropriate, and not too emotionally difficult. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry somehow finds a perfect balance between a mature topic and a child-friendly story, which is why it was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990. 

Though fictional, Number the Stars is based on the real childhood of a friend of Lowry’s and discusses the real actions of the Danish resistance, which helped save more than 7,200 Danish Jews by ferrying them in fishing boats to neutral Sweden during the war. The protagonist of Number the Stars is 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen, a Christian girl growing up in Copenhagen in 1943. Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen, is Jewish and gets taken in by the Johansens after the Nazis invade. The Johansens pretend Ellen is their own daughter, however, they soon realize that this is not enough. Annemarie and her mother then help Ellen connect with the Danish resistance, getting involved in the difficult process of getting her to safety. 

Number the Stars is quite tame for a Holocaust story; though there are some scary interactions with soldiers and a few mentions of sad deaths, there are no mentions of concentration or death camps. The rounding up of the Jews is referred to as “relocation” featuring no graphic scenes. I recently read this book to a fourth grade class, and I would say that is the appropriate age group; kids should be at least 10-years-old before reading. However, I will add that Number the Stars is well-written and discusses a fascinating resistance movement, making this book honestly enjoyable for people of any age.  

In her introduction for the 20-year anniversary of the hugely popular book, Lowry wrote an important message to her young readers. She discusses how these readers are at the age where they realize that “the world they live in is a place where the right thing is often hard, sometimes dangerous, and frequently unpopular.” Lowry adds that she hopes they will be inspired by “Number the Stars” and its protagonists to do what is right.  

Oftentimes, people think that “doing what is right” is for other people — brave, daring people like Gies or Lipstadt — but in truth, all of those who took a stand during and after the Holocaust were simply ordinary people. Just like us, they were also afraid and uncertain if they could make a difference. Gies was a Christian woman who had never “felt strongly one way or another about Jewish people.” Lipstadt almost did not research Holocaust deniers, thinking them to be “fringe extremists” and the “historical equivalent of flat-earth theorists.” The Danish resistance almost gave up many times when faced with different obstacles. But all of these people realized that they had to keep going and they had to try for, as Elie Wiesel said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” 

The most important thing to take away from these readings is that our efforts, no matter how small, are never for nothing. In the end, Gies could not save the Jews she hid —- but she gave them irreplaceable friendship and helped keep their memories alive through Anne’s Diary. Lipstadt could not stop all Holocaust deniers; even today, people like Kanye West are still claiming the Holocaust never even occurred, but Lipstadt started an important conversation about historical truth. The Danish people could not save every Jew, but there are thousands who owe their lives, and the continuation of their family trees, to the Danes’ actions. 

This Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us remember those who suffered and perished, and those whose actions made a difference in those dark days. Let us also continue their fight — a fight against antisemitism, misinformation and hate. No matter how small, our efforts matter. All of us can do our part to make sure that never again truly means never again. 

Jenna Ledley is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]