Stories To Remember

Today, on the fourth of May, the people in The Netherlands commemorate the victims of war. In several cities, houses that had Jewish residents during the Second World War opened their doors and had people tell stories. I went to listen to a few of them. 

I heard the story of the granddaughter of the rabbi of Haarlem, who told us about her grandfathers legacy and how he met his untimely demise in concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. I heard stories about the rise in suicides in May of 1940, when The Netherlands was invaded by Nazi Germany and people decided to take matters into their own hands. I heard the story of the daughter of the concierge of the Jewish community center who was deported to transportation camp Westerbork on 26 August 1942 with her parents and her fiancé. The day after she, Friederika Zilversmit, married her love, David Goud, in this camp. Four days later, they were murdered in Auschwitz. The storyteller showed us pictures of the couple, in the years before their death. They looked happy and in love.

The granddaughter of the rabbi told us that it is up to the younger generation to remember the stories, to keep telling them. So that we remember the victims. They may have been robbed from their lives, but by remembering and telling their stories, they do not lose their deaths. 

I’ve read so many books containing stories too important to let go, non-fiction and fiction alike. Books about the Second World War, or about other atrocities in our communal past. Books that tell stories that help us learn from or about earlier generations. Books that give the narrative back to the victims and help us remember. I could write page after page filled with books that impressed me. But I’m not a history scholar, I do not pretend that I can give you the ultimate book list. My words in this case fall short. And I can only ask you, fellow reader, to consider putting one of the three following works of fiction on your to read list, so that the stories about the Second World War live on:

  • Julie Otsuka – When The Emperor Was Divine 

For the most part, the Second World War never reached mainland United States. But a story often overlooked, is that of the Japanese-American citizens forced to leave their lives behind and were uprooted to internment camps in the desert.

  • John Boyne – The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

A children’s fable about the death camp Auschwitz. The book is not without controversy and should not to be confused with a factual description of horrors that went on there. But by forcing me to see this world through the eyes of a nine year old boy, the small story impressed me deeply.

  • Anthony Doerr – All The Light We Cannot See

The reader follows the point of view of a blind French girl and a German boy training to be an elite soldier. It is not a black and white story about a victim and a villain, but about all the feelings in between. 

Image by Annie Spratt via Unsplash