I hesitate to say myriad stories, because there could never be too many, or too similar accounts to remind our generations of the Holocaust and warn us, less history repeat itself. However, there are numerous books about it, some written by family members, some collected from the journals of children, some by the few survivors themselves.
I have devoured many of these books, held rapt by dauntless courage that seemed to sprout in once common hearts. Where once stood a child, a tradesman, a farmer, a businessman, suddenly emerged men and women refined by unimaginable pain and loss. Also, came men and women with the compassion and faith to go to great lengths to protect the innocent.
But Bury the Hot, by Deb Levy, tells a story of those same blood-drenched years in a different tone.
Levy grew up with Sal Wainberg’s children. Hardly anyone knew his story. Though he was proudly Jewish and obviously of the right generation, he had never revealed much, and most were reticent to ask. Then Levy, grown with children of her own, received an unexpected phone call.
“‘Hi Debbie?’ he said without introductions or formalities you’d expect from a lifetime friend who you haven’t spoken to in a lifetime. “Do you know my story?’”
Bury the Hot, was written as Levy sat at her desk for months, in hours’ long conversations with Sal and his wife, Sandy. Every few chapters, the saga pauses and Levy lets the reader listen to their real-time conversation. We hear her probe softly, ask some practical questions and some that are so personal, she is fearful to ask.
Sal was born, Szulim Wainberg in Zelechow, Poland. He was a mere four-years-old when German planes began bombing his home, disintegrating his life. His family evaded the Germans, hiding in lofts, basements, wheat and rye fields. Sal tells Levy he kept a mental tally of the miracles that kept his family just barely out of the jaws of certain death.
Now, he’s old, retired. His wife and children have lived and aged under the cloud of his secret past. But, how could a little boy assimilate the horror of seeing babies dashed against buildings, of digging his sister’s grave when he was only six, of living for months on end in a dank cellar without light, of feeling the hot, unjustified hatred of his own neighbors? How could he contain that and not be changed; and live a life just like everyone else?
That’s what makes this book unique. Through the interview process and passing back and forth between the decades, Levy shows how a man dealt with that past and carried it forward into a successful future. She unveils how thousands of Jews must have felt emerging from the Holocaust into a world that wanted to pretend as if everything is “normal”.
Bury the Hot, is an exceptional read, unparalleled in its approach to addressing the Holocaust. For anyone with an interest in history, for anyone with an interest in human nature and the aftermath of survival, this is an revelatory book.