Browning, Christopher R., Hollander, Richard S. and Tec, Nechama, editors. “Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence from Poland”, Cambridge, 2007.
The Holocaust has held a major place in literature perhaps because even though it is hard to believe that it ever happened, there is something about the human mind that seems to compel us to learn more about it. As years pass now, there will be fewer accounts of first hand material as the last of the survivors leave this world. Cambridge University Press has issued an amazing book of letters translated from the Polish—those of the Hollander family who managed to live through the ordeal. When his parents were killed in 1986 in an automobile accident, Richard Hollander found letters from members of his family that he never knew. The letters were in his parents’ attic and they were all written from Cracow, Poland during the period between 1939 and 1941. They had been written by his paternal grandmother and other members of his family and were stacked in a briefcase. These letters now become a part of the history of the darkest age in the history of humankind and shed light on daily life under the Nazi yoke and show the pain and stress that Hollander’s family endured. It was hard for me to read these letters and even harder to understand how the world allowed something like the Holocaust to happen. One of the reasons that this book is so important is that this period of time in Poland has little documentation because most of the accounts that we have are those written by members of the Nazi party and not by those who were directly affected by the Nazis. Ninety percent of the Jews of Poland were destroyed as well as the letters, diaries, papers and official records of the Jewish communities.
The letters that Hollander found are especially important because they are almost a complete collection and through them we can see how things changed during the period and they were written by nine different people who give us three different generational views and we can different perspectives on the period.
Many ask why we want to read about such a depressing topic. It is so important that we learn about inhumanity in order to understand history. Had it not been for the Holocaust, history would have been very different and as horrible a period that it was, there were some positive outcomes because of it.
What I found to be so interesting to me was how the letter writers managed to remain a loving family but then again they had not much else, The love that the members of the family felt for one another come through in the letters and they were very careful to write about what has now become some very important historical aspects. Even more interesting is that Richard Hollander’s father, Joseph Hollander, was fighting the government of the United States to avoid deportation and thereby almost certain death. Joseph Hollander was able to save the lives of many Jews from Poland but could not do so for members of his own family.
More than just the letters are here; there are also extensive comments which tie the letters together. This book is an incredible addition to Holocaust literature but as I stated previously it is not an easy read. The letters are filled with so much loves (and fear) that I found it hard to keep my eyes dry as I read. How much better off we would be today if we had had the chance to have the actual Hollanders with us instead of just their letters.