I am spoiled.
I have lived a perfect life, a life entirely free from intense suffering. Sure, I have known people—young people, good people—who have suffered from terrible diseases, from impossible hardship. But these people have not been the people closest to me, so these tragedies have not touched me in the most personal way. My faith is strong—but who am I to talk, I whose faith has never been tested?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for a test. I’m not asking for a tragedy, chas v’shalom. But I fear. I have lived a life without trial, yet I am imperfect. If, given every gift that Hashem can possibly offer, I still am unable to serve Him perfectly (in fact, far from it), where would I be if something terrible happened?
And that’s where the Holocaust books come in. My whole life, I never read any (with the exception of Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I had to read for school). My philosophy, right or wrong, has always been: why make yourself sad on purpose? Besides, I am extremely squeamish, and the details of Holocaust tales have always been too much for me to handle.
Now, a junior in college, one of my classes has required me to read a book called The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn. The author tells his own tale, a man searching for the stories of six of his ancestors who were killed by the Nazis. He travels from the Ukraine, to Australia, to Israel, seeking out his history. His saga is interspersed with comparisons to stories in Sefer Bereishit, as elucidated by Rashi and a modern commentator named Friedman. The author himself is not Orthodox—he was brought up vaguely Reform, and although since then he has ‘discovered’ much of his heritage, the impression I have gotten is that he still takes a secular approach to the validity of the Torah. The book is long, 500 pages, and I am only halfway through. Though it is slow reading, I have, for the most part, enjoyed its intricate rambling and frequent keen insights.
But reading about some of the horrors of the Holocaust, and only just the horrors that occurred to the population of a tiny town called Bolechow, has also frightened me immensely. Reading the book for long periods of time, I feel sucked into a world I am afraid of. The way that Hashem allowed people, Jewish people, religious people, to be treated makes me forget, momentarily, that He is just. When I hear that the Rabbis suffered most—how a Rabbi, his eyes cut out, was forced to dance naked with a woman for the officers’ amusement, I wonder—how? Why?
Yes, I had heard about the evils of the Holocaust before. I had heard of the slaughter, but rarely in such vivid detail. Six million is not just a number. Six million are people, each with an individual story. When I hear the story of a single death I am sickened—multiply that horror by six million, and what happens? I cannot even fathom it.
And that, that is why I do not read Holocaust books. Because yes, it is important to be aware of our history. Yes, it is bad to close your eyes to reality. But I am not as strong as I should be. Hashem has not tested my faith, He has not put me in their shoes. Maybe, in a tough situation, I’d find my hidden strength. I’d like to think I would. But their tests are not mine, and reading about them will not make them mine—it will only confuse me.
As a close friend said, “I’d rather not shred myself up into little tiny pieces just to see if the pieces can come back together when I close the book.”