The Upstander: How Sur­viv­ing the Holo­caust Sparked Max Glauben’s Mis­sion to Dis­man­tle Hate

By – December 6, 2021

Part biog­ra­phy, part trib­ute, and all heart, Jori Epstein’s book recounts the sto­ry of Holo­caust sur­vivor Max Glauben. Epstein fol­lows Max from his child­hood in pre-war Poland to his call­ing as a sea­soned octo­ge­nar­i­an edu­ca­tor in Texas, jux­ta­pos­ing the ter­rors he expe­ri­enced as a youth with his quest to thrive and devel­op mean­ing from his past.

Read­ers who are famil­iar with sur­vivor nar­ra­tives will appre­ci­ate Epstein’s rel­a­tive­ly sparse descrip­tion of the hor­rors Glauben endured. She main­tains the focus on his spe­cif­ic jour­ney, first as a young teen in the War­saw Ghet­to and then as a pris­on­er in sev­er­al con­cen­tra­tion camps. Because of his family’s news­pa­per, Glauben’s sto­ry pro­vides a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to under­stand how infor­ma­tion spread in Warsaw’s Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, up to and includ­ing the Ghet­to upris­ing. Epstein bal­ances the need to explain how Glauben, a boy with exact­ly the right car­pen­try skills at a par­tic­u­lar moment, man­ages to sur­vive with the impor­tance of giv­ing enough detail and con­text to allow read­ers to under­stand how his sto­ry is con­nect­ed to the greater his­tor­i­cal events that shape it.

Anoth­er ele­ment that stands out is how Epstein’s descrip­tion of Glauben’s emer­gence as a Holo­caust edu­ca­tor reflects the devel­op­ment of the broad­er field of Holo­caust edu­ca­tion. In learn­ing about how Glauben began to talk to his fam­i­ly, espe­cial­ly his grand­chil­dren, and to younger gen­er­a­tions of Jews about the Holo­caust, read­ers can trace the time­line and oppor­tu­ni­ties that devel­oped for sur­vivors to share their sto­ries. Epstein effec­tive­ly illus­trates Glauben’s nar­ra­tive and why it is so impor­tant for it to be doc­u­ment­ed. Her abil­i­ty to cap­ture the dis­tinct voic­es of Glauben as he talks about his moti­va­tions for doing this work, and the voic­es of his fam­i­ly, the stu­dents, teach­ers, and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who lis­ten to him make this sec­tion of the book espe­cial­ly engag­ing and relatable.

Epstein’s straight­for­ward writ­ing style makes this book eas­i­ly acces­si­ble to old­er high school stu­dents and intro­duc­to­ry col­lege cours­es about the Holo­caust. As Jew­ish edu­ca­tors and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers face their inher­i­tance of sur­vivor accounts and mon­u­ments, a close read­ing of Epstein’s work is an ele­gant way for them to explore how they will hon­or and safe­guard these lega­cies. This book stands as a tes­ta­ment to the courage and char­ac­ter of Max Glauben, hon­or­ing the mem­o­ry of his fam­i­ly and his hope for a bet­ter world for future generations.

Deb­by Miller is a long-time board mem­ber of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, serv­ing on its Fic­tion com­mit­tee, and lat­er found­ing the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Book Clubs. She is cur­rent­ly a Vice Pres­i­dent of the orga­ni­za­tion. Deb­by is based in Greens­boro, NC and has been involved in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty through Nation­al Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women (NCJW), AIPAC, B’nai Shalom and the Fed­er­a­tion. She was pres­i­dent of the local Women’s Divi­sion and cam­paign chair, and also got involved in the Nation­al Women’s Divi­sion. One of her pri­ma­ry phil­an­thropic endeav­ors is her work with JDC, where she has been a mem­ber of the board since 1994

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Jori Epstein

  1. Before read­ing The Upstander, what did you expect to learn and feel from a Holo­caust mem­oir? In what ways did The Upstander sur­prise you or align with your expectations?

  2. Why is Max’s mem­oir — and Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture in gen­er­al — impor­tant to study today? Do you think Max’s tes­ti­mo­ny is his­tor­i­cal­ly notable, rel­e­vant to our con­tem­po­rary soci­ety or both?

  3. The author guides read­ers through Max’s child­hood hob­bies and rela­tion­ships. How did the char­ac­ter he devel­oped as a young boy influ­ence his expe­ri­ence in the ghet­to and con­cen­tra­tion camp?

  4. When Max was 13 years old, his fam­i­ly was forced into the War­saw Ghet­to con­fines. As a teenag­er, he wit­nessed star­va­tion, dis­ease and mur­der. What did you learn from Max’s insight on page 32, say­ing: There is a cer­tain amount of shock that can hit you. And then it keeps on hit­ting and hit­ting and hit­ting, and there’s a sat­u­ra­tion point”?

  5. In Chap­ter 7, after Max and his fam­i­ly are forcibly trans­port­ed to Maj­danek death camp, his imme­di­ate fam­i­ly is killed in a span of three weeks. Max is deter­mined: I must, even as a kid, con­tin­ue my name,” he says on page 48. I don’t want — could not — give them the sat­is­fac­tion of killing me. I’d do any­thing to out­smart them.” Think about a time in your life you were deter­mined to chase a goal. Why was that goal impor­tant to you? What did you learn about your­self in that pursuit?

  6. The Upstander cites sev­er­al orig­i­nal doc­u­ments. Read­ers learn from Nazi records detail­ing Max’s trans­ports between labor camps; case­work­er papers ana­lyz­ing his psy­che upon immi­gra­tion to Amer­i­ca; and let­ters Max and his uncle attempt­ed to send each oth­er in the 1940s. How did those resources influ­ence your expe­ri­ence read­ing and pro­cess­ing Max’s testimony?

  7. The Upstander doesn’t begin in 1939 nor end in 1945. Rather, Max explains his pre-war youth and post­war recla­ma­tion. How did under­stand­ing Max’s life before and after the war shape your per­cep­tion of the Holocaust’s impact on sur­vivors and our society?

  8. On pages 115 – 16, Max’s chil­dren dis­cuss how spar­ing­ly they knew Max’s tes­ti­mo­ny dur­ing their child­hood. By page 129, in 2005, Max had piv­ot­ed so sig­nif­i­cant­ly he was guid­ing stu­dent groups through con­cen­tra­tion camps. Why do you think he shel­tered his chil­dren at first? Why do you think he even­tu­al­ly opened up? Con­sid­er your own life: If you were in Max’s posi­tion, how would you han­dle that decision?

  9. Despite the hor­rif­ic injus­tices the Nazis per­pe­trat­ed, Max doesn’t spend time chan­nel­ing anger or hatred toward them or any­one. The hater is the one who gets the short end of the stick,” he says on page 160. Do you agree with Max’s per­spec­tive on the futil­i­ty of hate? How can you apply that les­son to your life today?

  10. Study­ing the hor­rors of the Holo­caust, and Max’s sub­se­quent emo­tion­al trau­ma, chal­lenges us emo­tion­al­ly. And yet, Max infus­es charm and humor into his life and tes­ti­mo­ny. What was your favorite moment of joy, laugh­ter or wit?

  11. The author’s note con­cludes on page 172:
    If you have any hatred, big­otry or anti­semitism,” Max implores, I hope that after you read this book, you might change your mind.” Now, you are a wit­ness and an upstander.
    Did this mem­oir change your mind in any way? If so, how?

  12. After com­plet­ing the mem­oir, how would you define the word upstander”? What’s one way you want to car­ry on Max’s lega­cy as an upstander?