Sum­mer Haven: The Catskills, the Holo­caust and the Lit­er­ary Imagination

Hol­li Lev­it­sky and Phil Brown, eds.
  • Review
By – February 5, 2016

There is a sig­nif­i­cant body of lit­er­a­ture deal­ing with the Catskills, and there is an enor­mous body of lit­er­a­ture deal­ing with the Holo­caust. This anthol­o­gy of fic­tion and non­fic­tion deals with the rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of works in which these piv­otal Jew­ish top­ics intersect. 

The edi­tors of this col­lec­tion cast a wide net. In some cas­es, most notably with Reuben Wallenrod’s Dusk in the Catskills, the pieces deal with the war era itself or its imme­di­ate after­math. In many oth­er cas­es, the sto­ries and mem­oirs dis­cuss the lives of Holo­caust sur­vivors in the gold­en age of the Catskills or even decades after World War II. A num­ber of the chap­ters are fol­lowed by essays either ana­lyz­ing them or — in the case of those writ­ten by the orig­i­nal author — explain­ing them. The edi­tors are enam­ored by the Catskills, and this work also serves as an infor­mal (albeit lim­it­ed) his­to­ry of the region as a key ele­ment of Amer­i­can Jew­ish life.

The edi­tors clear­ly hope to gain insight from the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the hell­ish world of the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps with the safe and serene envi­ron­ment of the Catskills. Includ­ed in the col­lec­tion are explo­rations of how an indi­vid­ual can bounce back from time spent in the dark­est places on earth to live a life of mean­ing and joy (a basic theme of the work of Elie Wiesel, who is not rep­re­sent­ed here). Won­der­ful insights into this top­ic are offered by pieces such as Bon­nie Shus­ter­man Eizikovitz’s Catskill Dreams and Pumper­nick­el. In this sto­ry, a girl con­tem­plates why her old­er friend, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, is so emo­tion­al about some gos­sip; much lat­er, she real­izes that the sur­vivor couldn’t bear to learn of a Jew­ish woman hav­ing an abortion.

As with most antholo­gies, this col­lec­tion is uneven. It is unclear why the edi­tors felt the need to have so many authors of the non­fic­tion pieces explain why they wrote them; in a few cas­es, this sim­ply seems redun­dant. Still, there isn’t a clink­er in the bunch. And some of the writ­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly Thane Rosen­baum and Ezra Cap­pell, do an excel­lent job of elab­o­rat­ing on their orig­i­nal pieces. Cappell’s read­ing of his fore­bod­ing Dream­ing in the Ninth is par­tic­u­lar­ly potent.

Best of all are the excerpts from two famous works, Art Spiegelman’s sec­ond Maus book and Isaac Bashe­vis Singer’s Ene­mies: A Love Sto­ry. Those pow­er­ful excerpts tow­er over their brethren in the anthol­o­gy and will quite pos­si­bly send some read­ers off to find those two books. If that is the case, Sum­mer Haven will have accom­plished even more than it hoped for.

Relat­ed Content:

David Cohen is a senior edi­tor at Politi­co. He has been in the jour­nal­ism busi­ness since 1985 and wrote the book Rugged and Endur­ing: The Eagles, The Browns and 5 Years of Foot­ball. He resides in Rockville, MD.; his wife, Deb­o­rah Bod­in Cohen, writes Jew­ish children’s books.

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