The book is repetitive at times, but it is well researched and shows the author’s deep attachment to the Sperling family. Although Mr. Smith’s conclusions are basically only suppositions because few facts are available, he does lead the reader on a logical and straightforward path as he presents a fount of historic information about the annihilation of the Polish Jews, and although he cannot walk in Hershl’s shoes in order to better understand Hershl’s destiny, the author attempts to follow the road he must have taken. This question haunts him in his exploration: Why would someone who worked so hard to survive throughout the war under the most horrific conditions, finally choose to take his own life? Hershl never found a way to adequately deal with or vent his own anger or work out his need for retribution for what Hitler put him through. Was suicide his ultimate expression of anger? The book then begs the question: Did Hitler actually win?
While the memory of the Holocaust continues for the few remaining survivors, the legacy of the Holocaust and keeping its memory alive, falls on the shoulders of their offspring, and it sometimes becomes too great a burden, even for them to bear. Few Jews escaped from either the experience or the memory of the Holocaust.
As I read the book, I was somewhat uncomfortable by what seemed to be the author’s over identification with Hershl’s experience. I began to feel as if it was his travelogue rather than a search for the reasons behind Hershl’s suicide. To me, that seemed to trivialize Herschl’s experience and glorify his own. Then I remonstrated because as a Jew, I thought I should try to absorb the message before I chose to criticize the writer’s style.
Many, including myself, have sometimes expressed the feeling that the topic of the Holocaust has been exhausted and we have read enough about it, but if we give in to our feelings of exhaustion on the subject, how can we expect others of different religions and different cultures to continue to educate themselves about it. Although sometimes I am tired of the subject, I do always discover some new horrifying fact, some new horrifying way Jews were humiliated and abused in every book I read. We, who are not mad, can never understand what was in the hearts and minds of those demented sadists who happily performed their vicious duty to Hitler’s cause, but if we choose to put it in the past and forget, will history repeat itself? With today’s current attacks on Jews it does no seem like such a far fetched idea any longer.
Perhaps these Holocaust books need to be read strictly for the information and historical content, exclusive of the emotional impact, to lessen our own personal exhaustion with the subject. There is always something else out there that we did not know about the genocide’s execution. The Jews in Germany and Poland, wherever, could not imagine what would take place and they let their guard down. Today there is a similar attitude of disbelief and they are often their own worst enemies by supporting causes that are not in their best interests and leaders that could not care less about their needs or standards. We have infantilized our children in this modern generation. They do not have to be responsible for themselves until they are well into their twenties, forget being 15 and separated from all those you love. One has to wonder if today’s young people could ever survive what Jews were subjected to, during WWII.