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They have since found a new readership many times over, as younger people discover in Herzberg’s work an answer to the existential questions raised by the Holocaust.As a survivor he wanted readers of his essays to understand ‘what human beings are capable of, and to what, unless we are vigilant, they can be reduced’.
The massive presence of death pushed his creative nerve: he made many drawings of limbs, faces and the eyes of the dying.
It was the war that turned his decision to be a painter into a real vocation.
A few months after returning from Germany I headed to college and discovered the study of religion, an academic discipline that allowed me to explore what it is that draws people to faith, how religion impacts our choices and decision-making, and why it is that some people, in spite of everything, still believe.
After that, there was graduate school in religious studies, where I continued to try to answer those questions, and unending new ones.
It was a heavy trip, especially for a self-absorbed teenager (I probably went with muted tones for my outfits).
All I could think about was how badly I wished my grandparents were still alive, and all the things I would ask them.
, the collection of essays that Abel Herzberg (1893-1989) published in 1946 include some of the earliest and most impressive reflections on the Holocaust.
Their analytical profundity and clarity of perception places them among the greatest works of Holocaust literature, on a par with those of Tadeusz Borowski, Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.
I’ll maybe describe growing up in the shadow of the shadow of the Holocaust, being reminded by a college professor that the “s” in “Holocaust survivor” isn’t capitalized, and piecing together my family’s wartime stories as I got older.
What I definitely will say is how I wish my grandparents could be there.