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From In the Midst of Civilized Europe, which was published last month by Metropolitan Books.

In the years after the Holocaust, survivors began compiling memorial books, one for each city and town. These literary monuments to destroyed communities preserved local stories and documented the names of victims. But such memorial books are not only histories of the prewar period; they are also prehistories of the war itself. Take the newly discovered memorial book from the town of Proskuriv, in what is now Ukraine. The book, Khurbn Proskurov, whose cover is depicted below, captures the calamity the city endured. It concludes with the names of the martyred—a list that extends to thirty pages. What differentiates Khurbn Proskurov is that it was written in 1924—nine years before Hitler’s rise to power and fifteen years before the start of the Second World War. It commemorates the real beginning of the Holocaust: on February 15, 1919, Ukrainian soldiers murdered a thousand Jewish civilians in what was at the time possibly the single deadliest episode of violence to befall the Jewish people in their long history of oppression.

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November 2021

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