Survival and Optimism

Book review: Bread or Death, by Milton Mendel Kleinberg

It took me a little while to get into this one, but once I did, I was glad I’d stuck with it. Kleinberg wrote this account of his and his family’s experiences during World War II to answer questions for his grandchildren. I’ve read many Holocaust memoirs and there was a lot here I’d never come across anywhere else, so I was left feeling I’d learned something significant about both the history and the workings of human nature. Strangely, after reading some of the most heartbreaking and shocking stories I’ve heard from this time period, this book ends up being one of the most optimistic and positive from this genre that I can remember. These two extremes in one person, in one life, are fascinating – I think anyone with an interest in human nature would find this a great study.

And truly, the most amazing thing about this story was Kleinberg’s unshakeable optimism. He writes unapologetically about certain things he did in order to survive that are jarring, to say the least. But he frames them in the context of this survival at any costs, especially the determination to keep going after what they’d already been through. He even contrasts these choices with the character of those making them, their behavior before and after the time of their persecution. For such a sad and difficult story, by its end he paints a wonderful, upbeat picture of what a survivor can do with the world that’s left to them, what they can make of their life after going through and hell and coming out on the other side. That optimism and achievement can be a welcome lesson for us all.

The book contains a great teacher’s guide, and I think this text functions perfectly as an educational tool. The simplistic writing style and conversational tones also make it accessible and suitable for young adult readers. It’s good to have additional stories from this time period, another voice and experience to read alongside classics like Anne Frank.

In reading a little bit about the author, I found that he still does a lot of public speaking in the United States, and I can see why he’d make a popular speaker. He writes the book almost as if it were an oral history being recorded, telling his stories very directly and without a lot of philosophy or interpretation. Just direct, bluntly, and there’s a lot of power in that. It works for his tone and experience. I was impressed by his personality, he’s the type that after reading about his early life and how he made a happy beginning for himself in America, you’d love to have a chat with him and hear more.

Book review: Bread or Death: Memories of My Childhood During and After the Holocaust
by Milton Mendel Kleinberg
published 2014 by Fifth Generation Press

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher for review.

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