Dawson (Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival, 2009) investigates a little-known story of the Holocaust and its aftermath.
The Ukraine is often something of a coda to discussions of the Holocaust and World War II. Despite suffering a death toll in the millions, it has been little studied and understood. Its reoccupation by the Soviet Union following the war hid survivors, textual sources and physical evidence behind the Iron Curtain, and memories receded. During the process of researching his previous book about his mother’s improbable escape from the death camps as a Jewish Ukrainian, Dawson came across a detail so obscure that in the course of more than 100 public readings, he never encountered anyone who was familiar with it. The first war-crimes trial against the Nazis took place not in Nuremberg, but in Kharkov, Ukraine, which was also the site of some of the first systematic killings of the Holocaust. Using these events as bookends, the author presents a personal, moving exploration of the human experience during the Final Solution. The Eastern Front was an area of experimentation, and many methods of killing were used before “Himmler’s dream of an antiseptic Holocaust in which there was no blood and bones” was realized. Less a systematic history than an impressionistic memoir of the author’s family and millions like them, the book is sometimes annoyingly cutesy: “For those who ended up in the dock at Nuremberg, denial was just a river in Egypt.”
Despite some minor flaws, Dawson’s humanist treatment of his chilling subject and illumination of events all but forgotten make it well worth reading.