Reader reviews for The Lost

Extremely detailed account of 1 man's journey to find out what happened to his uncle under Hitler. It is a study in relationships between Ukranians and Jews under Hitler. Also it reveals the difficulty many of the survivors continue to have in relaying the memories and stories of what happened during the WW II. The author also weaves a religious theme throughout the book with references back to Genesis and the events occurring in the early part of the world.
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I went through different phases during this book. First i couldn't get into it, then it was ok but not great, then sometime around page 250 i got completely sucked in and ended up loving this book. it is a 5. I think it is the way the story is written. the author put little asides in, like "or so we thought then" or "until i found out differently" and such. at first, you just want to know what actually happened and the asides are annoying but as the book unfolds it makes more and more sense.The author begins by telling stories of his childhood, the stories of things that happened to him and things that his family, especially his grandfather, told him. Mendelsohn knows his grandfather's brother, Shmiel, and Shmiel's wife and four daughters, all died during the Holocaust. No one knows exactly how and when. Mendelsohn begins researching these lost family members and about the city of Bolechow, Poland, where they lived. The search takes him all over Europe, to Australia and Israel as well. I can't say too much about what he finds as it would take away from the story. It is a great story though.Here's a quote: To be alive is to have a story to tell. To be alive is precisely to be the hero, the center of a life story. when you can be nothing more than a minor character in somebody else's tale, it means that you are truly dead.I do wish that the pictures had captions. Mendelsohn talks about a lot of people, in his family as well as others he speaks to about the Jagers, and he only randomly posts the pictures but none have captions. sometimes it doesn't matter because he's just described the person in the picture or the picture itself, but other times it is strange because he's talking about the girls and the picture shows several of them. How are we supposed to know which is which? Maybe that is part of his story, the uncertainty of what you think and what you know.
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The Lost is an outstanding book that goes well beyond a family history. The extensive portrait of the extended Mendelsohn-Jäger clan living in Long Island and Florida can be at times a bit frightening to someone more used to nuclear families. This is a tale of large families (Daniel Mendelsohn himself has four siblings, one (Matt) contributing the photos of the book) living intimately together, with aunts, uncles and other relatives staying in for extended periods of time. Woody Allen's portrait of a Holocaust obsessed New York Jew fits Mendelsohn to a T. Since his childhood, Daniel Mendelsohn had developed an odd obsession with genealogy, discovering the personal histories of his relatives impacted by the Holocaust. Linked to this is a creepy obsession of spending time in the company of old people, already as a teenager but also while traveling in Europe where he eschews visiting a city's highlights in order to score another interview with an often less than willing Holocaust survivor. His sightseeing is often marred by insufficient preparation. A simple Wikipedia search would have revealed that Theodor Herzl was buried in the Döbling cemetery not the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna. Vienna's Zentralfriedhof is lodged between the industrial zone, the airport and an oil refinery. No wonder that upstanding citizens such as Theodor Herzl did not want to be buried there. The Zentralfriedhof is almost situated in Vienna's equivalent of New Jersey. For marketing purposes, Vienna's administration reburied some of its heroes (such as Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven) in the Zentralfriedhof and even set up empty memorials for others (Mozart). Sometimes, the lack of a systematic approach is vexing. Serendipity often comes to the rescue.The search quickly turns into a hunt, a mystery of a true crime. What had truly happened to Mendelsohn's grand-uncle and his daughters in 1941 and 1942? Mendelsohn unveils layer upon layer, giving faces and stories to name and places - a task better not left to the professionals: regarding his relatives, the database of Yad Vashem was filled with errors, partly due to the Galician-Polish-Ukrainian multi-linguistic environment. While the re-discovery of his relatives' life and death as well as the stories of the Holocaust survivors is a worthy endeavor in itself, Mendelsohn enriches it with a meditation and analysis of the first books of Moses. Jewish history as a tale of suffering starts early with God evicting and punishing the first humans and later wiping out most of humanity and nature in the flood. Sodom and Gomorrah only continues the story of a jealous and vengeful God. Even the God-fearing and righteous will suffer. Mendelsohn's research reveals quite a number of skeletons in the family closet. Reality is complex and non-fiction offers the best tales. Like an excellently choreographed firework, Mendelsohn's hunt pays off magnificiently, with tiny build-ups aggregating into big reveals. Given Goethe's Faust's famous agonizing over the correct translation of the first lines of Genesis, I found the discussion of its Hebrew translation issues (and its surprisingly frequent non-conventional approaches) very interesting. Another topic I have so much to learn about.Where Mendelsohn's book could have benefited from was a more general introduction to the Eastern European area, recently labeled "Blood lands". Unfortunately for its inhabitants from Poland to Hungary to Austria to the Adria, the clashes through the centuries between the East and the West proved to be very bloody. Wiping out villages and cities used to be an all too familiar occurrence. Like Mendelsohn, I have often wondered why, for instance, the inhabitants of Hainburg, Austria, did not flee prior to the Turkish invasion of 1683. The Turks wiped out nearly all of the 8.000 inhabitants. Joseph Haydn's grand-father was one of the few survivors. While The Lost ultimately is a personal search for the history of his relatives and the Holocaust, a wider discussion of the violent nature of mankind would have been quite in order. The Holodomor, Stalin's starvation of millions of Ukrainians occurred just on the other side of the border from Bolechow. Since time immemorial, Eastern Europe has seen a lot of suffering (emigration has always been the best strategy). Homo homini lupus. Mendelsohn shies away from its full discussion and implication. This is especially bothersome in his mentioning of Abu Grhaib's "abuses said to have taken place". Call it torture and it is so amply documented that its denial or questioning is just sad. Together with mentioning Evian only as a mineral water, the continued whitewashing of US involvement in blocking Jewish emigration is not helpful in educating the next generation of Americans. Apart from this all too common blind spots, this is a spectacular achievement that is a fast-paced, revealing read. Highly recommended.
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An excellent book, though suffering from over-indulgent editing - the Biblical commentaries should come out, and the whole thing is too long. But a fantastic read and teaching about the reality of the Holocaust and how it continues to reverberate down the generations.
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This book is a fascinating personal journey for the author to find what has happened to six members of his family during WWII. As someone who is very interested in his own family's past I found this book enthralling and enlightening, as well as personal. The story which the author tells is authentic, rich, deep and engrossing.The book has its flaws, in my opinion. The author weaves in narrative of rabbinical scholars which I thought distracted from the story (even though interesting by its own merit - but just out of place).Even though I found the narrative distracting, but it is in italics so it's easy to skip if you choose.Since this is a biographical novel on several level (the uncle, the cousins, those who knew them and the author himself), I felt it would have been more profound if the author would have shared more of himself. After I finished reading the book felt I knew the long departed Uncle Schmiel better than the man who is telling the story about his own search.
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My interest in family history came from listening to my paternal grandmother's stories, which were often sparked by one of the objects that belonged to one of the relatives – a plate, a piece of jewelry, a photo album, a scrapbook, a diary. Daniel Mendelsohn's interest in his family's history seems to have developed in much the same way. His maternal grandfather told stories of the Jäger relatives who had emigrated from Bolechow, at the time a Polish town, to the U.S. His grandfather treasured the pictures and letters that were the only reminders left of his oldest brother, Shmiel, and Shmiel's wife and four daughters. While the rest of the family made new lives in the U.S., Shmiel decided to stay in Bolechow, where he was a “big fish in a little pond”. Shmiel and his family perished in the Holocaust along with almost all of Bolechow's Jewish residents.Years of research allowed Mendelsohn to fill in many details on his family tree. As he filled in more and more details about other family members, Mendelsohn began to feel that he needed to learn more about his great-uncle Shmiel to complete the family tree. In order to find what could still be known about Shmiel's family and their fate, Mendelsohn needed to talk with the surviving remnant of Bolechow's Jews who were old enough to remember the Jäger family from before the war. Accompanied most of the way by his photographer brother Matt, Mendelsohn traveled to Australia, Israel, Sweden, Denmark, and Ukraine to meet people who had been there and to find out what they knew and what stories they had heard.I was particularly struck by this passage:It's different to write the story of people who survived, because there's someone to interview, and they can tell you these amazing stories. As I said these words, I thought of Mrs. Begley, who had once looked coldly at me and said, 'If you didn't have an amazing story, you didn't survive.'My problem, I went on..., is that I want to write the story of people who didn't survive. People who had no story, anymore.That passage sums up how this book differs from other books I've read about the Holocaust. It's not a survival account. It's about six individuals who didn't survive.This is an inspirational book despite the grim subject matter. Mendelsohn frames his journey with meditation and commentary on weekly Torah readings (parashat) from Genesis. Along the way, he develops a stronger bond with his brother, forms new friendships, and discovers long-lost relatives. The journey is as meaningful as the destination. Highly recommended for readers with an interest in family history, Jewish genealogy, the Holocaust, and the history of Ukraine (formerly eastern Poland), particularly the town of Bolechow/Bolekhiv.
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There are books you stumble upon that seem to strike a chord deep within you. I was only three pages into The Lost: The Search for Six of Six Hundred when I knew this was that kind of book. I can’t even remember how I found out about it. Some book site recommendation, probably, but whoever or whatever did the recommending hit the nail on the head. This will go down as one of my favorite books.Why did I enjoy it so much? First, author Daniel Mendelsohn’ story seemed so familiar. Like me, Mendelsohn grew up in a large extended family that told him lots of stories about growing up in a small town, about brothers and sisters, about parents and grandparents, about decisions great and small that eventually lead to him and his life. Early on Mendelsohn caught the genealogy bug and from a young age started charting the family tree, also like me.Where our stories diverge is where Mendelsohn’s takes off. As a youngster he is shown pictures of a great-uncle, his wife and four daughters who, he was told, “were killed by the Nazis.” At a certain point Mendelsohn decides to find out exactly what happened to them, and so armed with tidbits that he had gathered from relatives over the years he begins a journey that will take him literally to the four corners of the earth to find answers. The stories he hears, the facts he gathers, the friendships he makes are all nterwoven masterfully and truly did turn this book into a page-turner for me.But it isn’t just this one story that Mendelsohn tries to tell. A trained classicist, he breaks the narrative throughout the book to analyze passages of Genesis and their parallels to the story he his telling. Using both centuries-old and modern commentary as a starting point, Mendelsohn brings his own perspective to the ancient story and his more modern one, struggling to find meaning in acts that seem incomprehensible.This is a really great book! Highly recommended!
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The author's very personal journey to find the stories of 6 members of his family who were killed in Poland during the Holocaust has much to offer about the bigger picture as well. He tells the story much like his grandfather told stories, looping forward and back, away from what you thought was the main action and then back again. We learn about life in a small Polish town before the war and the hell that visited there during the war. But we also learn about the first section of the Torah and interpretations of it through the ages. It might seem irrelevant, but the cycles of destruction and rebirth of human society are very relevant to discussions of the Holocaust.At times, the book meanders or repeats itself in ways that are less charming, but overall it keeps things moving even with a tough premise - it's hard to find specific answers when so many people who could tell the stories are dead (if not in the war, than in the 60 years between then and when Mendelsohn started seriously researching). For me, that was probably the most poignant part - that we often don't pursue asking questions until the people who could answer them are no longer with us.
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This is the story of Daniel Mendelsohn's search for his maternal grandfather's brother, Shmiel Jager. His grandfather had told him stories of the family, but he became interested in learning more. His search led him to many countries and to the ancestral hometown of Bolekhiv, Ukraine on numerous occasions. Gradually through bits and pieces from different individuals who knew Shmiel's family, he is able to piece together the story. I was somewhat disappointed in the story. It's more about the search than it is about the lives of those he was researching. As a genealogist, I would have preferred to read the account of his family as it had been synthesized and pieced together (with footnotes attributing each piece to the proper source and noting discrepancies and how they were resolved). This, however, was not the direction in which the author chose to go. I found that I was constantly trying to remember what he'd learned 100 or 200 pages back that had bearing on what he was learning from his current interviewee. I felt that the book was a lot longer than it needed to be, but much of this may have had to do with my perspective on how the book should have been written. There is a lot of information here, and while I am not as happy about how he chose to present it as some others are, I am happy that he did put his family's story in print. I enjoyed the pieces of commentary on Genesis which were often based on the Jewish commentary that Friedman wrote.
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Good story but at times tedious. A good way to begin understandin the Talmud
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