Primo Levi

Poland in the Darkness of World War II
December 20, 2012

The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War By Halik Kochanski (Harvard University Press, 734 pp., $35) The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery By Witold Pilecki translated by Jarek Garliński (Aquila Polonica, 460 pp., $34.95)   ONCE, THE Allied history of the Second World War—the Anglo-American history of the Second World War, the Victors’ history of the Second World War—was the only one we thought mattered.

Genocide and the Fine Arts
April 20, 2012

The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir By Claude Lanzmann Translated by Frank Wynne (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 528 pp., $35)  I. The film called Shoah runs for more than nine and a half hours. Its subject is the extermination of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis. It features Jewish survivors of the death camps, Poles who lived near the camps, and Germans who organized and ran them—and also its director, Claude Lanzmann, in the background, with his various interpreters. The languages in which these people speak include Yiddish, Hebrew, English, German, Polish, and French: a sound file of Europe.

Some Works of Art Can’t Be Labeled as Fact or Fiction, and That’s OK
March 21, 2012

Like wolves and teenagers, literary scandals travel in packs, and the first of the spring are already upon us. First came The Lifespan of a Fact, a new book by essayist John D’Agata and his fact-checker Jim Fingal, which presents the blood-and-tears saga of Fingal’s seven-year-long attempt to verify a piece by D’Agata about the suicide of a Las Vegas teenager.

Art Spiegelman’s Genre-Defying Holocaust Work, Revisited
October 05, 2011

“A quest for ersatz verisimilitude might have pulled me further away from essential actuality as I tried to reconstruct it,” muses the author of a seminal work of literature about the Holocaust. In a lengthy interview that has just been published, he reveals that his source material included thousands of hours of interviews; a shelf of books in Polish, Yiddish, and Ukrainian; detailed maps of the death camps; and even manuals of shoe repair.

The Most Pressing Question
August 10, 2010

What is it, finally, that divides the believer from the atheist? The question comes to mind in observing renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens endure, in full public view, metastatic esophageal cancer.

The Furrows of Algeria
January 27, 2010

The German Mujahid By Boualem Sansal Translated by Frank Wynne (Europa Editions, 240 pp., $15) I. From the terrible Algerian slaughter, and its terrible silence, comes this small tale, told by an officer of the special forces who broke with “Le Pouvoir” of his own country and sought asylum in France. It is the autumn of 1994, deep into the season of killing. An old and simple Algerian woman, accompanied by two of her children, comes to the army barracks, to the very building where the torturers did their grim work, in search of her husband and her son.

The Epilogue
October 02, 2006

Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz By Jan T. Gross (Random House, 303 pp., $25.95) I. In spring 1945, not long after his liberation from Auschwitz, Primo Levi, traveling across southern Poland by train, got off in a small town to stretch his legs and immediately found himself at the center of a group of curious people, all speaking excitedly, and incomprehensibly, in Polish.

A Thousand Darknesses
March 20, 2006

NightBy Elie Wiesel Translated by Marion Wiesel(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 120 pp., $9) NIGHT IS THE MOST DEVASTATING account of the Holocaust that I have ever read. It is devastating first because of its simplicity. The basic outline is this: after the Germans invade Hungary in 1944, the teenaged Eliezer and his family, religious Jews who live comfortably in their community, are deported to Auschwitz. He and his father, separated from the rest of their family, are assigned to hard labor.