This is one of the saddest, most heartrending books I have read in years. I could not bear to stop reading, even when I was revolted by the descriptions of torture and death that were visited upon innocents. There can never be too many books about the Holocaust, particularly in these days when some deny that it even took place. This one is especially important since it contains so many eye witness accounts from aged people whose voices must soon be quiet forever.
As a young boy growing up among his extended Jewish family Daniel Mendelsohn was mystified by the tears that broke out whenever he entered a room occupied by his grandparents and great-aunts and uncles. He looked so much like Schmiel, a man he only vaguely knew to be an uncle who had died in Eastern Europe during World War II. Fortunately, Daniel became interested in family history at an early age and began to ask questions and keep records. Eventually, as an adult, he and his siblings undertook to discover what had actually happened to Uncle Schmiel and his family.
The resulting journeys took Daniel to Ukraine, Israel, Poland, Sweden, and Australia among other places and allowed him to meet many former residents of Bolochow, the shtetl in which Daniel's family, including Schmiel, had lived. He interviewed witnesses to the deaths of Schmiel and his wife and daughters and recorded sometimes conflicting accounts of their deaths and those of thousands of others. At times the stories are repetitive, but they are no less compelling to read.
I liked this book on a number of levels. First, as I said above, its another essential Holocaust record and must be one of the last to record so many first hand accounts of what happened during the Final Solution. Second, the many characters are very appealing. My own family is white Southern Protestant for the most part, but I recognized so many traits we have in common with the Jagers, Mendelsohns, and other former residents of Bolochow, making me profoundly thankful that my familys'lives and fates have been so tranquil in comparison. Thirdly, the book is beautifully written, with the accounts of Daniel's searches interspersed with fascinating discussions of Jewish commentaries on the Book of Genesis. Highly recommended.
on September 22, 2006
I could not put this book down for three days. Literally. I got food on it and bathwater and fell asleep reading with my head on the table at 3 am. I woke the next morning groping for it. It is moving and powerful and beautifully written. I cannot recommend it more highly and have already purchased copies for my friends and family.
on September 22, 2006
Mr. Mendelsohn has lost 6 family members in the Holocaust and has reclaimed their lives in "The Lost." This is not a dry, academic tome with statistics and analysis of the death camps. The author is a participant within the book as he successfully plays detective to uncover the fate of his relatives. The writing is nothing less than brilliant and never boring. He uncovers betrayals, sacrifices and heroics within the small town of Bolechow, Poland. Mr. Mendelsohn seems to have found every aged survivor from Bolechow -- this book is their witness to the Holocaust.
on October 13, 2006
I am about to be 60 and am reading a book that fills me with regret, THE LOST, by Daniel Mendelsohn, the story of how he tracked down the final days of his grandfather's brother and that man's four beautiful daughters. I have finished the first fifth of the book and am convinced that it is the greatest literary work that I have read since my youthful exposure to Proust and the early novels of Saul Bellow. Mendelsohn combines a personal memoir of growing up in a "modern" Jewish family in America with historical detective work based on old photographs, recovered letters, interviews, trips, internet sites devoted to the little towns of Eastern Europe and Jewish genealogy, and couches it in the most beautiful and evocative and thoughtful sentences, often based on the style of Proust (to whom he has given the opening epigraph of the book), organizing his discussion around an analysis of the first book of the Torah (even mentioning my Haftorah passage, Lech lecha) and Homer's Iliad. He brings to life long lost people, places, philosophical issues, with drama and mystery. He has assembled a complete genealogy of his family and has testified to the power of memory, language (Yiddish, Hebrew, German), family love, pride and humor. He is unfailingly generous in his descriptions and conclusions. The book is illustrated with photographs taken by his younger brother. The parallels with our own family history, our life in New York and in Florida, the impact of parents on the intellectual growth of their children, the impact of religious stories and scholarship, the diaspora to America and Israel, are incredibly resonant and moving, and all this in the first 70 pages. I am writing to urge each of you to read this great book and learn how you came to be, how your own grandfather and I came to be, the people that we are. I am sorry that I never accomplished a similar work on the history of our own family. I can only hope that one or all of you will take on this important task and assemble a similarly amazing chronicle before the people who can help you are gone, the Magdas and Pop Pops, the grandma Lillys and "Uncles" from all the remaining branches of our living candelabra. On page 41 he lists the major sources by which he accomplished the feat and by which you, like Proust, can recapture the past and recapture Time. I will never have the time to do it, my life wrapped up in other kinds of scholarly pursuits and my nature so bent to the seductions of poetry. But you have a chance to do it, to accomplish something of great value for yourselves and for others. In the meantime you will have the consolation of reading sentences sculpted by a master and it will fill your hearts with unimaginable pleasure.
Once in a while a book comes along that has the power to involve me emotionally. "The Lost" is one of those books, a complex, multilayered modern odyssey. Subtitled "A Search for Six of the Six Million, this 2006 non-fiction tome is the personal story of the author's recent quest to discover exactly what happened to six members of his family who perished during the Holocaust. Like myself, Daniel Mendelson is an American Jew. He's a generation younger than me, but, unlike myself, some of his family members lived in Eastern Europe in the 1940s, and his beloved grandfather's brother, sister-in-law and four teenage daughters were "lost" during that awful time.
The author's journey led him to the Ukraine, Israel, Australia and Scandinavia. He spoke with elderly survivors who had some memory of his family or the way they lived. What he learned was shocking, chilling and yet somehow inspiring. The people he spoke to were old, their memories were fading, and some of the stories they told were merely rumors. Often, some of the stories contradicted each other. Questions were raised. Did one of the daughters have a romantic relationship with a young Polish man who tried to save her? What was the real reason that one of the brothers emigrated to Israel in the 1930s? What was it like for the people who had all their possessions and dignity stripped from them? How did each one of these six people die? And, ever more importantly, how did they live?
As the author is a professor of classics, mixed in with the basic story are very interesting discourses on complex interpretations of the Old Testament. There are many interpretations of the way the ancient words were used and discussions about their true meaning. I loved these parts which both took me away from the horror I was reading about and yet put it all in a larger perspective.
I learned things too, some of which I only grasped in a general way. And, through it all, I was very aware that had my own great grandparents hadn't immigrated to America in the 1880s, my childhood would have been very different that my happy American upbringing. However, this book is not only for Jews. Actually, it was recommended to me by a friend who has a very different background from me.
I've heard the details of the horror before. But this book is much more than that. It is a mystery. It is a puzzle. It is about family. It is filled with the voices of the elderly people who still remember. It brings life to a time and a place that once existed and is gone forever. Those individuals who still have memories of those events will soon be gone. And the experience of the Holocaust will only exist in the pages of history books. I therefore applaud the author's dedication and perseverance to write this book. It is certainly a worthwhile read and a give it my very highest recommendation.
on December 17, 2006
The Lost is an extraordinary tale of a man's search for six of his relatives caught up and ultimately destroyed by the Nazi death machine in what was then Ruthenia, or Western Ukraine. But is it s story on so many other levels, which is why I found the interpolating of the passages from the bible so powerful.
Mendelsohn takes the reader along with him on his search for information about these six relatives. But in doing so, in beautiful and moving prose, he tells the tale of death and loss for all humanity to reflect on. There are many details in this work of verity, and it is in those details that a world emerges, one that is destined to be obliterated.
Genealogy is much more than names and dates and places. And this is very much a work about genealogy. But genealogy is also about bigger questions about who we are, where we came from, and what it means. Genealogy is a way to put flesh and blood to history and that is one of the most vital parts of Mendelsohn's work. We see the towns, now vanished, where his grandfathers and great grand uncles worked and lived and somehow they become more real to us, instead of numberless statistics without faces or names. I was deeply moved by The Lost and if I had anything to do with it, it would win the next Pulitzer Prize.
on February 3, 2013
I ordered this on Kindle. By the time I got to reading it, it was too late to return it. The premise was so interesting. Not that The Lost is a bad book, it just over talks itself so much that I was hardly past the first few pages that I began skipping. While the review mentions a man trying to find out the truth about family lost in the WWII Holocaust , there is section after section, page after page of interpretations of the Torah, including histories of the Torah's greatest scholars. It is very repetitive. Rather like an old uncle who tells you the same story of the same people over and over and over. The reader is continuously told about the American cemetery (membership required) for Jews from a certain small area of Poland and continuously reminded of the town's name. I am happy for the author that he has so many good reviews but I would rather have had a straight forward story (as the beginning of the book leads one to believe it would be). I think I just plain got bored.
This really was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Nearly six decades after the Nazi's exterminated six members of his family, author Daniel Mendelsohn set out to discover just what had happened to them. All that he really knew was that his grandfathers brother Shmiel, his wife and their four daughters had disappeared off the face of the earth sometime in the early 1940's in their home town of Bolechow in Poland. By the time Mendelsohn decided to pursue this project in 2000, his grandfather had passed away. All the author really had was a handful of letters and a few family photographs. And so began this remarkable journey that would take Daniel Mendelsohn around the world and require more than four years of his life. "The Lost" is the compelling account of this odyssey. It is a book that I like so many others who have written reviews here simply could not put down.
Although we all have heard stories about the Holocaust since we were children it can be difficult to comprehend the true scope of the genocide. Of course we are all appalled that six million Jews lost their lives but the magnitude of the crime really hits home when you learn about what actually happened in the town of Bolechow. In his travels, Mendelsohn discovered that prior to 1939, more than 6000 Jews called Bolechow home. And by the time the World War II concluded in 1945 only 48 Jews had survived! The genocide rate in Bolechow was 99.2%!!! At the same time, you cannot hope to understand just what happened there without a firm grasp of the extremely complicated political situation that existed in the town among the Poles, the Jews and the Ukranians. Daniel Mendelsohn does a marvelous job of painting that picture for his readers. When he began this project in 2001, Mendelsohn really had no idea how many survivors he might be able to locate. It turns out that there were a dozen. Mendelson would have to travel to such far flung places as Israel, Stockholm, and Sidney, Australia to interview these people. He would visit Bolechow twice. Slowly but surely he was able to piece together the incredible story of how these long lost relatives had lived their lives and how they had died. It is a story I will not soon forget.
"The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million" is a beautifully written book that will hold your interest from cover to cover. You will discover that these events were often a lot more complicated than they might appear. This is an important book that deserves your time and attention. Highly recommended!
on November 14, 2006
I was intrigued when I read a review of this book in the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. When I saw the book displayed in an airport bookstore, I casually purchased it, thinking it would be a history of one family's experience in the nightmare that descended upon Europe. I found that I could not put the book down after I started reading it. The book is so well written that it transcends non-fiction. The prose reminded me of Capote's In Cold Blood. It is really several books: a detective story into the circumstances behind these relative's deaths, a religious allegory into the presence of evil in our world and a historical account of mankind's greatest crime.
The premise of the book is from Mr. Mendelsohn's childhood, growing up in a reformed Jewish household. As a child, he bears such a striking resemblance to a relative who was murdered with his wife and four daughters by the Nazis in the Holocoust that relatives literally weep when when he eneters a room. His curiosity is piqued by the vague answers he receives when he inquires about his great uncle. When he is 12, his mother tells him before a Yom Kipper service that her uncle and cousins were killed by the Nazis in Poland and that she never learned more information. Even the names of the daughters are seemingly foreever lost. His elderly relatives, many of whom live in Miami Beach, give information grudgingly, but he uncovers some photographs, a poignant letter pleading for financial assistance to escape Poland and enough information to keep his curiosity intrigued When his grandfather commits suicide, more photgraphs and letters surface in his physical effects. In one letter, his great uncle pleads that God grant his wish that Hitler be torn to pieces. Eventually as an adult, he begins a multi-continent odyssey to learn who these people were, how they lived and how they died.
With his three brothers and sister, he returns to the small village in the Ukraine, a part of Poland that was annexed by the Soviets after 1945. His interpreter starts asking people in the street, seeking elderly residents who may have known his client's relatives. There he actually finds Ukrainians who recall the family and point out the street where they marched into the forest to be slaughtered by the Nazis. An elderly neighbor recalls that villagers could hear the gunshots that day and that her mother turned up the washing machine to try and drown out the noise. Mendelsohn also senses the distrust or distance that existed between Ukrainians and Jews.
One evening he is contacted by one of the handful of Jewish survivors of the town who was in love with one of the daughters. He pleads for him to visit Australia, stating that he should come quickly as he does not know how much time he has left. With a brother, Mendelsohn flies to Sydney and learns more from this elderly witness, including the true name of the daughter that this man loved so long ago. He also learns that two of his relatives escaped that day and fled into the hills where they were active with teh partisons, until they were betrayed. He then returns to Europe and pieces more of the story together from witnessses. It is an incredible story of courage, race and betrayal. The book is one that will both stimulate and haunt you for a long time.
on December 30, 2007
There are some very important lessons in this book about what it was like to survive the Holocaust; what it was like NOT to survive; what it is like to research events relying on survivor's memories; how elusive is a true account of horrible events; what are the many forms of denial; what it is like to inherit this difficult legacy through one's own family members (and how poignant that so many of them who survived long enough for Mendelsohn to interview them died even before this work could be published!); what became of village identity when much of the population was being murdered; and many other important things.
Unfortunately, there are also lessons about the difficulties of demanding too much of your readers. This book is too ambitious when it interweaves Jewish textual interpretation with the stories of WWII survivors. And the use of photography was little more than a tease. Small photographs placed in odd spots throughout the text perhaps did make the reader study them more carefully than if they had been larger, captioned, etc., but it added to the already considerable burden of hard work to read and digest this book. I wanted to like it. I don't regret reading it. But it limits its audience (and has clearly put some readers off) by its length and complexity.