Remember Us is a look back at the lost world of the shtetl: a wise Zayde offering prophetic and profound words to his grandson, the rich experience of Shabbos, and the treasure of a loving family. All this is torn apart with the arrival of the Holocaust, beginning a crucible fraught with twists and turns so unpredictable and surprising that they defy any attempt to find reason within them. From work camps to the partisans of the Nowogrudek forests, from the Mauthausen concentration camp to life as a displaced person in Italy, and from fighting the Egyptian army in a tiny Israeli kibbutz in 1948 to starting a new life in a new world in New York, this book encompasses the mythical "hero's journey" in very real historical events. Through the eyes of 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Martin Small, we learn that these priceless memories that are too painful to remember are also too painful to forget.
Martin Small’s breathtaking autobiography, written with assistance from Vic Shayne, follows him from a happy Jewish childhood through the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, and all the way into the modern day.
Peter Altschuler’s performance of this truly moving audiobook is characterized by his level tone and gruff but comforting voice, the perfect lens through which to experience Small’s rich and deeply affecting memories. This audiobook is made especially interesting as a memoir by Small’s choice to focus as much on life in the shtetl and in New York after World War II as he does on the grim realities of the Holocaust, suggesting that we would do well to remember the good alongside the bad, always.
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A Tragic and Rich Life, With Lessons For All
Yes. Few people live (and suffer) as fully as Martin Small. The lessons of his upbringing,, his experiences during the Holocaust and how he rebuilt a life from nothing offer so much wisdom. I have already shared many of his stories with my children and expect that they will be interested in reading his story too.
The memorable moments are endless. 4 stand out:
1. The absolute interconnectedness of all people in his small shtetl.
2. When he watched a polish farm woman get beaten because she was suspected of hiding Jews.
3. When Mr. Small was approached after the war by the wife of an SS officer and asked to save her daughter.
4. When he/the reader learn that his visa to American had been sold on the black market and had it not been for his relative, he may have languished on the beaches of Italy for many more years, never finding the chance to rebuild his life.
He seems to read the book with a smile, channeling Mr. Small's positive energy, which he holds despite his unbearably traumatic early life.
The book is captivating from the start and grows more compelling as it moves forward. The seemingly tiny details of his journey, such as his visits to the Italian beach while he waited days, then months then years for his visa to America hint at much larger themes. How long might the clearly resilient and personable Mr. Small have floundered on the Italian coast line had a distant relative from America not come traveled across the world to sort out his visa problem? When would this young man, with all of him immediate family murdered and no tangible ties to his rich past left, have given up hope? When would he have lost the will to build a life or grown too weary to find the strength to learn a new language and a new trade? Mr. Small’s story sheds light on the atrocities endured by survivors. That so many were never able to recover from their trauma and build a “normal” life becomes easy to understand after reading this book. Those, such as Mr. Small, who were not too young or old to be immediately murdered by the Nazi machine, and went on to defy every odd and survive the war, lost years of their lives to war and its aftermath in displaced persons camp, never able to quite pick up the pieces . Mr. Small’s story highlights where he was graced by luck and pluck and distant relatives able to help him find a place to fit in as well as jobs where he could make a living.
Mr. Smalls stories highlight true good versus evil moments that many of us, thankfully, cannot even imagine. When the war came to Mr. Small’s home village, former friends became murders. There was one Polish farm family Mr. Small felt safe turning to for help. Amazingly, their living room was filled with others who had sought their help. Mr. Small witnessed a former playmate break the leg of the homeowner with a rifle butt when he suspected of her harboring Jews. After the war Mr. Small remembered the few noble people who had helped him. He then tells about when he was approached by the wife of an SS officer who pleaded with Mr. Small to save her daughter from the Russians who were now hunting Nazi war criminals. Mr. Small chose to save not only the SS officer’s daughter but his wife and her mother as well.
The afterward, by Mr. Small’s daughter, shows the reader the scars that Mr. Small endured but spared his audience. The appendices, with historical reports by soldiers who knew the camps in various capacities, also contribute to the strength of this book.
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