The Holocaust Memoir Digest consists of detailed summaries of published memoirs of Holocaust survivors. The term “Holocaust” comes from the Greek and means consumed by fire: a burnt offering. In Hebrew, which is both the language of prayer among Jews, and also the language of the State of Israel, the Holocaust is called “Shoah”, and in Yiddish, the traditional language of East European Jews, it is “Hurban”.

The Holocaust has come to refer to the planned, systematic murder of Jews who were living in European lands occupied or dominated by Germany during the Second World War. The war began with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. What had begun as the random killing of Jews led, with the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, to the mass murder of Jews on a daily basis. The surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 brought the war in Europe to an end; 6,000,000 Jewish men, women, and children had been killed.

Many of the survivors felt the need to record their eyewitness accounts, to memorialize their destroyed families, to remember their pre-war way of life. Some memoirs, written soon after the war, introduced the Holocaust to the public consciousness. In recent years, time and the natural aging process have been the impetus for many others to record their memories for posterity.

The will to live, to have hope, to survive and to rebuild – this is what gives the Holocaust its universality. Jews are known as the People of the Book, that book being the Bible, the narrative of their origins, laws, and early history. The need to write and record, to document, and to remember are an integral part of Jewish tradition. This is what makes the Holocaust a window into the best and the worst of human behavior. The Holocaust is not the only genocide of the twentieth century; it is in many ways the most documented one.

Each survivor’s experiences are unique, yet each memoir contains aspects of the Holocaust that add to our knowledge of that terrible time. The Holocaust Memoir Digest, by investigating the published memoirs of Jews who survived the Holocaust, provides an essential guide and reference for the teaching, not only of the Holocaust itself, but also of recent history, human relations, the pattern of genocide, and the psychology of good and evil.

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