Draw­ing the Holocaust

Michael Kraus; Paul Wil­son, trans.
  • Review
By – March 16, 2017

Stark and unflinch­ing, Draw­ing the Holo­caust brings us into the mind of Michael Kraus, a Czech pre­teen caught in the jaws of the Nazi regime and impris­oned in three dif­fer­ent con­cen­tra­tion camps. Kraus was sep­a­rat­ed from his par­ents and beat­en, starved, tor­tured, and humil­i­at­ed. Nev­er­the­less, when he emerged at the end of the war at age 15, he found that he still had the will to live and the strength to do so. 

After being lib­er­at­ed from what he calls an empire of elec­tric fences, suf­fer­ing and death — a hell on earth,” Kraus imme­di­ate­ly began to write and draw the sto­ry of the last three years of his life. He tells us he had always kept a diary; as a child he found it was a way to unbur­den myself of my own wor­ries and grief.” But now, after the loss and dev­as­ta­tion of the war, he had a dark­er objec­tive: to over­come his hatred for the peo­ple who mur­dered his parents.

Today Michael Kraus is a retired archi­tect liv­ing in Mass­a­chu­setts, the father of two daugh­ters and the grand­fa­ther of four. More than 70 years after his lib­er­a­tion from the camps, he has decid­ed to share his sto­ry with the world. He hopes that young peo­ple will read his book so that they can under­stand events that, from the per­spec­tive of the cur­rent day, might seem almost unreal.”

He is very like­ly to achieve his goal. The book is haunt­ing in its unself­con­scious obser­va­tions of suf­fer­ing and trau­ma in There­sien­stadt, Auschwitz, and Mau­thausen. The images are repro­duced with­out edit­ing, and add lay­ers of mean­ing to the accom­pa­ny­ing text. The soft pen­cil draw­ings com­ple­ment and extend the mature, well-writ­ten diary entries, and remind us in their sim­plic­i­ty that the author is a mere teenag­er. Not only is this sto­ry valu­able and authen­tic, but also it per­son­al­izes the enor­mous events of the Holocaust.

Unlike many mem­oirs, this one was writ­ten when the author’s mem­o­ries were fresh and imme­di­ate. Kraus began writ­ing as soon as he could find some scraps of paper and a pen­cil, as he was recov­er­ing from typhus in a for­mer Ger­man air force bar­racks that had been con­vert­ed into an infir­mary for lib­er­at­ed camp sur­vivors. Ten­der­ly trans­lat­ed from the orig­i­nal Czech into Eng­lish by Paul Wil­son, this is a use­ful his­tor­i­cal record as well as a mov­ing memoir. 

Sec­ondary-school edu­ca­tors who want to use this book in the class­room will be able to obtain sup­port­ing mate­ri­als at no cost from the Cen­ter for Holo­caust and Human­i­ty Edu­ca­tion of Cincin­nati, Ohio.

Relat­ed Content:

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

Discussion Questions