Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Holocaust, Told in 1 word, 6 Million Times

(from startribune.com
by Jodi Rudoren)


The book “And Every Single One Was Someone,” by Phil Chernofsky, consists of the single word “Jew,” printed 6 million times to signify those killed in the Holocaust. RINA CASTELNUOVO • New York Times

There is no plot to speak of, and the characters are woefully undeveloped. On the up side, it can be a quick read — especially considering its 1,250 pages.

The book consists of the single word “Jew,” in tiny type, printed 6 million times to signify the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. It is meant as a kind of coffee-table monument of memory, a conversation starter and thought provoker.

“When you look at this at a distance, you can’t tell whether it’s upside down or right side up, you can’t tell what’s here; it looks like a pattern,” said Phil Chernofsky, the author, though that term may be something of a stretch. “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims: These are not individuals, these are not people, these are just a mass we have to exterminate.

“Now get closer, put on your reading glasses, and pick a ‘Jew,’ ” he continued. “That Jew could be you. Next to him is your brother. Oh, look, your uncles and aunts and cousins and your whole extended family. A row, a line, those are your classmates. Now you get lost in a kind of meditative state where you look at one word, ‘Jew,’ you look at one Jew, you focus on it and then your mind starts to go because who is he, where did he live, what did he want to do when he grew up?”

The concept is not entirely original. More than a decade ago, eighth-graders in Tennessee set out to collect 6 million paper clips, as chronicled in a 2004 documentary. The anonymity of victims and the scale of the destruction is also expressed in the seemingly endless piles of shoes and eyeglasses on exhibit at former death camps in Eastern Europe.

Now Gefen Publishing, a Jerusalem company, imagines this book, titled “And Every Single One Was Someone,” making a similar statement in every church and synagogue, school and library. Ilan Greenfield, Gefen’s chief executive, said his goal was to print 6 million copies.

While many Jewish leaders in the United States have embraced the book, some Holocaust educators consider it a gimmick. It takes the opposite tack of a multimillion-dollar effort over many years by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum here, that has so far documented the identities of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These fill the monumental “Book of Names,” 6 1/2 feet tall and 46 feet in circumference, which was unveiled last summer at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“We have no doubt that this is the right way to deal with the issue,” said Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem’s director. “We understand that human life, human beings, individuals are at the center of our research and education. This is the reason we are investing so much in trying to retrieve every single human being, his name, and details about his life.”

Shalev declined to address the new book directly, but said dismissively, “Every year we have 6,000 books published about the Shoah,” using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

The book’s backers do not deny its gimmickry but see it as a powerful one. “Almost everyone who looks at the book cannot stop flipping the pages,” Greenfield said. “Even after they’ve looked at 10 pages and they know they’re only going to see the same word, they keep flipping.”

An Orthodox Jew with nine grandchildren, Chernofsky is a numbers man, the kind of person who cannot climb stairs without counting them (41 up to his apartment). “Harry Potter, in seven volumes, used 1.1 million words,” noted Chernofsky, who has a Quidditch broom hanging in his office. “This has 6 million in it, so I outdid J.K. Rowling.”