By RON GROSSMAN
“I am an old man of 88+ with trembling hands and health status leaving much to be desired,” wrote Mendel Halpern. “Besides I don’t have much to write about regarding the Holocaust since I didn’t suffer nearly the way others did.”
Still, he had read a 1997 newspaper article by Elie Wiesel who won a Nobel Peace Prize and encouraged other Holocaust survivors to document their experiences, so Halpern did.
“My most memorable recollections are that I was at shotgun point five times and like a miracle didn’t get shot,” recalled Halpern, whose Holocaust experience included being forced to leave his birthplace of Radauti, Romania.
His stories were published by JewishGen (an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage), which collects and translates accounts of Jewish communities whose inhabitants were murdered by the Nazis. Some 200 of these Holocaust “yizkor” books — yizkor is Hebrew for “remember” — were written by survivors.
Some cover larger districts. Others tell the story of a single “shtetl,” whose translation as “village” can’t capture the love embodied in the Yiddish word. Transcriptions can be read on the website jewishgen.org, which also lists titles available for purchase in book form.
The authors of the yizkor book of Kovel, Ukraine, no doubt expressed the motivation of others who recorded the fate of their hometowns:
“This book is a permanent memorial to the soul of our town. It will never be forgotten. The embers of our town will remain until the coming of the Messiah. The book will be handed over to our descendants and to all coming generations as a memento of our town.”