A 2012 European trip let me touch the Baltic, revel in Peter and Catherine’s glorious St. Petersburg, and walk at midnight in Moscow’s Red Square, but it was Warsaw that made me weep—not just the city’s history of the Ghetto and the sewers, but Europe’s horror of six (seven, ten?) million dead Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, dissidents, mentally and physically disabled. Warsaw believed that the elm tree outside Pawiak Prison witnessed Nazi brutality. They attached metal boards with victims’ names. When the tree died, the city of Warsaw replaced the tree with a monument cast in bronze. A testament to scars and sorrows, generosity and integrity.
It was so easy to choose If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for my first book to re-read in 2017. It was not as easy to read again Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved. What remained consistent was my wish that I had known him, that I could have called him a friend. A young survivor of Auschwitz, a writer, a humanist, and for me, a hero of the 20th century. “A Man of Quality”. Levi’s definition of the intellectual describes, for me, a quality human being: “a person whose culture is alive inasmuch as it makes an effort to renew itself, increase itself.”