Eli Rubenstein is the National Director of The March of the Living Canada. He is a religious leader at a Toronto synagogue founded by Holocaust survivors which sponsors Passover seders for the homeless, Holocaust education programs, and award-winning documentaries.
The March of the Living is an annual educational program that takes students from all over the world to Poland, in order to study the Holocaust. www.marchoftheliving.org
Hell’s Traces tells the story of the two families’ divergent paths. To spark the past to life, he embarks on a journey to visit Holocaust memorials throughout Europe. “Could a stone pillar or a bronze plaque or whatever else constitutes a memorial,” he asks, “cause events that took place more than seven decades ago to appear vivid?”
A memorial in Warsaw that includes a boxcar like the ones that carried Jews to Auschwitz compels Ripp to contemplate the horror of Alexandre’s transport to his death. One in Berlin that invokes the anti-Jewish laws of the 1930s allows him to better understand how his mother’s family escaped the Nazis. In Paris he stumbles across a playground dedicated to the memory of the French children who were deported, Alexandre among them. Ultimately, Ripp sees thirty-five memorials in six countries. He encounters the artists who designed the memorials, historians who recall the events that are memorialized, and survivors with their own stories to tell.
Resolutely unsentimental, Hell’s Traces is structured like a travelogue in which each destination enables a reckoning with the past.
Despite the outpouring of books, movies, museums, memorials, and courses devoted to the Holocaust, a coherent explanation of why such ghastly carnage erupted from the heart of civilized Europe in the twentieth century still seems elusive even seventy years later. Numerous theories have sprouted in an attempt to console ourselves and to point the blame in emotionally satisfying directions—yet none of them are fully convincing. As witnesses to the Holocaust near the ends of their lives, it becomes that much more important to unravel what happened and to educate a new generation about the horrors inflicted by the Nazi regime on Jews and non-Jews alike.
Why? dispels many misconceptions and answers some of the most basic—yet vexing—questions that remain: why the Jews and not another ethnic group? Why the Germans? Why such a swift and sweeping extermination? Why didn’t more Jews fight back more often? Why didn’t they receive more help? While responding to the questions he has been most frequently asked by students over the decades, world-renowned Holocaust historian and professor Peter Hayes brings a wealth of scholarly research and experience to bear on conventional, popular views of the history, challenging some of the most prominent recent interpretations. He argues that there is no single theory that “explains” the Holocaust; the convergence of multiple forces at a particular moment in time led to catastrophe.
In clear prose informed by an encyclopedic knowledge of Holocaust literature in English and German, Hayes weaves together stories and statistics to heart-stopping effect. Why? is an authoritative, groundbreaking exploration of the origins of one of the most tragic events in human history.