Milton Meltzer

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Saul Maloff

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Milton Meltzer's ["Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust"] is an act of desperation—an act of piety and pity, wrath and love, despair and homage; but the motive force, the terrible sense of urgency which drives and animates it, is desperation. In an afterword, he notes that an authoritative study of American high school history textbooks, conducted nearly 30 years after World War II, revealed that "their treatment of Nazism was brief, bland, superficial, and misleading," that "racism, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust were ignored or dismissed in a few lines," and that textbooks designed for colleges and universities were "not substantially better." "Darkness," said the historian Golo Mann, "hides the vilest crime ever perpetrated by man against man."…

Into this infinite void Meltzer sends his book levelling it without distinction—for none should or need be made—at teen-agers and young adults who came along after the fact, and at their elders who may have repressed or chosen to forget it. Within its small compass, he undertakes a task of intimidating scale: to convey some compelling sense of the experience of European Jewry in the Hitler years, culminating, of course, in the unprecedented slaughter of six million Jews. Not much more than a sketch is possible in a small book, yet what a full and resonant sketch it is. ("Definitive" studies, of course, abound, and are listed in a bibliography. Meltzer's intention is far more modest though it is uncompromising: he strives for a hard clarity of style and presentation that will span the divide between generations, and an unwavering concentration on essences unobstructed by the cumbersome and discouraging apparatus of scholarship.)

The progression is inexorable, unrelenting, beginning with the millennia-long historical background of anti-Semitism throughout Christendom and particularly in the Czar's Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe and in pre-Hitler Germany….

Six million massacred—men, women, children, babies straight from the womb. The imagination cannot encompass or fathom the horror; nor can the intelligence assimilate the magnitude and human meaning of those inert statistics. So Meltzer, with an intuitive eye for the illuminating image, event, moment, quickens and deepens his chronicle of catastrophe by brief, telling, heartbreaking and sometimes exhilarating passages from the records of survivors and of the dead; makes human what would otherwise be remote, stupendous, overpowering. (p. 25)

Nothing is evaded or scanted in this extraordinarily fine and moving book: not the vexed question of "why" the Jews "allowed" themselves to be destroyed …, nor the abysmal existence of the sometimes brutal Jewish ghetto police and concentration camp trustees, nor the tormenting issue of the complicit role of some members of some of the Jewish Councils. Meltzer does not equivocate and he does not relent; he does not patronize or condescend or indulge—he respects his readers, whatever their age, and is therefore free to make moral and intellectual demands of them; he tells harsh truths harshly, and noble ones (the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the camp revolts, the magnificent Jewish partisans and resistance forces) proudly. He is never sentimental, bombastic, falsely romantic or heroic. His deeply felt and trenchantly written book is an act of mourning and a call to remember. For our own souls' sake it is indispensable. (p. 42)

Saul Maloff, in his review of "Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 2, 1976, pp. 25, 42.

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Anita Silvey


Anita Silvey