There is likely no subject in Jewish history more commonly discussed then the Holocaust. Thousands of books have been written, endless pages have been scribed, and countless lectures have been delivered to help our generation comprehend the atrocities perpetrated against European Jewry during World War II. Over the years, our parents and teachers expended great efforts to ensure that the memory of these events will never be lost.
Yet, even with all the education we have received and all the explanations that have been given, we cannot, till this day, make sense of the heinous crimes suffered by the Jews of Europe. Some say it was simply the perfect storm, as Europeans were looking for a scapegoat on whom to blame the upheavals that shook the continent during the 20th century, and they found the ever present culprit: the Jews. Others have suggested that the rising stature of the Jews in European society, a process triggered and fueled by their legal emancipation, wrought an equally formidable wave of disdain and jealousy culminating in murder and attempted genocide. However, the one reason that is rarely given is one which we all know contains the greatest truth of them all: it was a decree from Gd that His people, for whatever reason, should suffer under the hands of the monstrous Nazis.
Charles Sarway’s new book, The Holocaust – A History from a Jewish Perspective, sheds new light on this often ignored conclusion. The book begins in similar fashion to any other historical recounting of those tragic times, offering the reader insight into the events that led to likely the worst mass murder the world has ever known. It then continues to take us on a sad journey wrought with destruction and horror. However, other than the basic historical facts, this book bares little similarity to the countless others that have come before it. As the title suggests, what this author does differently, much to the benefit of the reader, is provide the history of those times through the lenses of the Torah observant Jew. Or, as the sixth chapter’s header states, it provides “a religious perspective.” Due to the sensitivity of the subject, most authors usually shy away from exploring the Torah’s outlook on Jewish affliction. This book, however, allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusion without being misled by secular or non-Jewish approaches.
Throughout the pages, European Jewry’s vast and widespread assimilation is broadly discussed, not hidden. The meaning and significance of this unfortunate development, however, is left for the Torah sages, whose profound scholarship is cited and discussed in depth in explaining the Jewish viewpoint. The reader will see that Mr. Sarway himself does not attempt to answer the “why” of the Holocaust, but rather presents the words of the sages who courageously addressed this vexing question. The book presents excerpts of speeches given by Rabbi Rueven Grozavsky and later by Rabbi Avigdor Miller (and many others) regarding this catastrophe, helping to sort out the many difficult questions it raises.
Throughout the six expertly-written chapters, the reader is captivated not only by the horrifying details of those terrible years, but also by the deep sensitivity with which the author writes. He possesses a keen understanding that we are but meremortals compared to those who sacrificed their lives, and we are not worthy of questioning Hashem’s actions. Mr. Sarway writes in such a concise and understandable manner that even those completely void of historical knowledge will find this book fascinating as well as informative.
It is truly rare for a Sephardic Jew to write about subjects that mainly affected Ashkenazic Jewry. Mr. Sarway explains how this happened: “I did not set out to write a book and choose the Holocaust as a topic. Initially I washelping my daughter do research for a school project on the subject and I was deeply moved by just how enormous the tragedy was and how little we truly knew about it. One can only understand how terrible it was by knowing the details, so I committed myself to writing a book.”
Driven by this commitment to uncovering the unknown details of the Holocaust, Mr. Sarway proceeded to create a truly unique volume, one which combines historical research and Torah concepts, and enraptures the reader from beginning to end. This book will serve as an immensely valuable resource for anyone looking to delve into one of the most significant and cataclysmic events in our nation’s history through the lenses of our Torah luminaries.