There was this finished copy of Hedi Fried’s Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust sitting among the reader copies. It was short. It had a pleasant cover. I was hoping it would not be too dry or too academic. Nonfiction can be a drawn out with the author trying to get all their points across and, even, converting you to their way of thinking. And how would these questions work?
What it turned out is an interesting way to teach the Holocaust. From Fried’s lectures, she collected questions she has been asked and has tried to give answers to. She has had an autobiography written about her time as a Jewish woman in labor camps, Auschwitz and after, now she has created another way that is accessible to all on the subject at a personal level.
What makes this book different from many stories is not that it started differently: she was a girl growing up Jewish in a community that was broken up by class and less ethnicity. She was a girl who would be gathered up, put on a train, counted, sorted, separated from her parents. She was one of the “lucky one” not sent to the gas chambers, lucky to have her sister with her and lucky she was stubborn. What makes her story slightly different is, her family was taken towards the end of the war. One of the questions I have is, “How did that factor into the fact she and her sister survived, when so many did not?”
I have more questions (such as were there non-Jews in her labor camp), but many were answered (does she have PTSD when she hears a dog bark? Yes). And some I never really contemplated, but perhaps in the back of my mind asked (What is it like to have your period in the concentration camps and labor camps?). She is straight forward, does not hold back, but is not graphic. She tells much of the past and some of the present. I do not call the Questions chapters, but the book is broken up into 44 questions. Much of her thoughts are Eurocentric, but Americans can relate as well. She has an interesting opinion on the progression of “us and them” attitudes. She just has interesting opinions, period. You might agree with the idea, but not the wording. You might think her a genius or not. This book is something that needs to be read.
Translated by Alice Olsson. She quotes Martin Niemöller’s poem in her book. If you have not read it, I recommend it.