January 27 marked the eleventh Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom, and the fifth since the United Nations declared it an International event in November 2005. It was the day in 1945 on which Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the camps, was liberated.
In the light of this commemoration, we would like to reaffirm MacLehose Press’ commitment to publishing works of literature aimed at keeping the flame of remembrance alive.
In an interview with Tobias Grey in the Wall Street Journal last year, Christopher MacLehose outlined his belief in the importance of holocaust memoirs:
“I think there has to be a real literary response to the tragedy of the Holocaust… The priority I think is to educate the next generation and their children. And the more that the books we publish are real and of irreproachable quality the more you can give them to be read.”
The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2011 was “Untold Stories”. Chil Rajchman, who lived for most of his life in South American, died in 2004, leaving behind one of the most harrowing untold stories imaginable. Treblinka: A Survivor’s Memory was published in France in 2009, and in English in January 2011.
Rajchman was selected to work in the camp, cutting the hair of female prisoners, rather than being sent immediately to the gas chambers. He escaped during the uprising on August 2nd 1943 and was one of the few who managed to evade the S.S. patrols sent to sweep the forests for the fleeing resistors. Rajchman managed to survive until the end of the war, taking in shelter in various hideouts. In 1946 he was miraculously reunited with his brother – the only other survivor among his family – when they met by coincidence on the same street corner they had parted on in 1939.
That same year Rajchman married his wife, Lila, and emigrated to Uruguay. He became one of the most active members within the Jewish Community and was at international trials witness against Nazis in Düsseldorf (1965), Cleveland (1981) and Jerusalem (1987). He was father of three sons.
Hélène Berr’s life should have been no different from that of any other bright, young student studying at the Sorbonne in the mid-twentieth century. She was a uncommonly gifted student of Russian and English literature and revelled in the “Selfish Magic” of English words. But in 1940 France was occupied by Nazi Germany, and Berr and her family were Jewish. The Berrs managed to keep together some semblance of a normal, sociable life throughout the first few years of the occupation. However, in 1944 Berr was captured and deported from Drancy internment camp to Auschwitz. She died in the Bergen-Belsen camp, tragically, just five days before its liberation.
From 7th April 1942 until the day of her arrest, Berr kept a diary detailing her life in Paris and her conflicting feelings for two men, one of whom, Jean Morawieki, became her fiancé. As David Bellos writes in his introduction to the English edition of Berr’s Journal, “what she wrote was a clear-headed, elegant and heartrendingly beautiful account of a descent to hell”. Berr’s dazzling reflections are the sole testament to a life stolen. She gave the pages of her diary at regular intervals to a long-standing employee of her family, Andrée Bardiau, and later instructed him to give them to her fiancé if he were to hear of her death. In 1943 she wrote:
“It makes me happy to think that if I am taken, Andrée will have kept these pages, which are a piece of me, the most precious part, because no other material thing matters to me any more; what must be rescued is the soul and the memory it contains.”
These two accounts, one by a survivor who went on to marry and have a family, one by a young woman who did not live to fulfil a life of limitless promise, stand equal witness to events that must never be allowed to be repeated. We hope that in translating them into English, we may make a small contribution to a global commitment to remembrance.