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During his two final months, Jerzyk had started to write a diary. Rudolf published it in 1991 shortly before Jerzyk’s father, Izydor Urman, died. The story did not stop there. Jerzyk’s sister went on to live in Florida. Her mother spent the final years of her life there. After her death in 2003, Jerzyk’s sister discovered among her mother’s papers a second diary. She had written it while still living clandestinely after Jerzyk’s suicide. Rudolf now publishes the mother’s wartime writings alongside her son’s. In addition, he has discovered further documents written long after the war. They not only provide factual information but give insight into how Jerzyk’s death affected his parents in their later lives.

In the father’s case, the relevant document is the record of the interview he gave to Yad Vashem in 1964. The interviewer added a note to record how Jerzyk’s father could not “control his weeping and despair” and had declared himself “incapable of returning to those memories”. The mother attempted to cope in a wholly different way. Around 1985, she wrote an essay for an English-language class on “A wound that does not heal”, followed in 1993, when widowed, by an interview published in the Jerusalem Post. These documents are among those published in Rudolf’s book together with meticulous notes. He also recounts his complex relationship with Jerzyk’s parents: when the father forbade the mother to speak further to Rudolf, the mother contacted him privately at his hotel asking to meet. To ensure the quality of the English versions of the Polish documents, Rudolf commissioned Antonia Lloyd-Jones as the translator.

Rudolf is silent about himself. His role is to give respect by ensuring the survival of the fullest possible record of his dead cousin and of his bereaved parents. By recording documents relating to the same event written over the subsequent half-century, he gives unusual insight into the afterlife of the Holocaust without attempting to argue any thesis. Rudolf does, however, add an intriguing appendix about another cousin, Mark Rothstein, who was killed in a V-2 rocket attack on London in March 1945. This serves to show that Londoners — and, by implication, Rudolf himself — had not been wholly immune from Nazi terror.

Jerzyk is one of the finest books about the Holocaust this reviewer has read in recent years. It stands alongside books such as Samuel Kassow’s Who will write our history?, a study of the Ringelblum archive of the Warsaw ghetto, Barbara Barnett’s The Hide and Seek Children and Dina Gold’s Stolen Legacy (recently republished in an extended version). By contrast, several over-ambitious writings intended as Holocaust bestsellers have been deeply disappointing — opinionated, frequently politically biased, careless with the facts, and tendentious in their theses.

Nor is the tide of such works diminishing. The attack on Holocaust memory comes from varied sources: the attempt to “explain” rather than record, commercialisation, anti-Zionism, German greywashing, trivialisation by Hitler/Stalin equalisation, pro-Zionism. Serious, genuine writings such as Jerzyk are all too rare.
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