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The Books of Doom:
Life and Death of the Shtetl

- Abstract

A unique literature is being written on the life and death, during the last war, of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Nominally local history, its apocalyptic character sets it far apart from books that deal with the pasts of still surviving communities. Each chronicle ends in more or less the same way, with an account of the destruction wrought by the Nazis. A fearful story is told over and over again; there are many differences of detail but the burden is always the same, and so is the effect.

That these chronicles have not been issued by commercial publishers is not surprising. The few solid works published here and abroad on the Nazi holocaust have not found a large audience. Massacres make bitter reading.1 We, the helpless and horrified bystanders at the death of six million Jews, have averted our eyes from the record almost as resolutely as the murderers themselves—who cannot bear to see told in print the crimes for which they can never be punished enough, and for which so few of them, comparatively, have been punished at all. This does not mean that we are as hard as they, or have as much or the same guilt to hide. It means only that we cannot truly feel the death of more than one person at a time.

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