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Remember Us: My Journey from the Shtetl Through the Holocaust

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Remember Us is a look back at the lost world of the shtetl: a wise Zayde offering prophetic and profound words to his grandson, the rich experience of Shabbos, and the treasure of a loving family. All this is torn apart with the arrival of the Holocaust, beginning a crucible fraught with twists and turns so unpredictable and surprising that they defy any attempt to find reason within them.

From work camps to the partisans of the Nowogrudek forests, from the Mauthausen concentration camp to life as a displaced person in Italy, and from fighting the Egyptian army in a tiny Israeli kibbutz in 1948 to starting a new life in a new world in New York, this book encompasses the mythical “hero’s journey” in very real historical events. Through the eyes of 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Martin Small, we learn that these priceless memories that are too painful to remember are also too painful to forget.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published May 20, 2008

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Martin Small

12 books1 follower

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5 stars
653 (64%)
4 stars
252 (24%)
3 stars
80 (7%)
2 stars
14 (1%)
1 star
12 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 109 reviews
1 review1 follower
April 19, 2011
This is one of the best Holocaust books I've ever read. The author, Vic Shayne, really was able to bring out Martin Small's experience. Instead of focusing on the horrors of the camps, as do most of the books in this genre, Shayne made a very good decision to bring us the feeling of what life was like in the shtetl. Without this perspective we never could imagine the depth of what was lost with the murder and ruination of the Jews of Eastern Europe.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the author, Vic Shayne, toward the end of this writing process. He told me it took nearly four years and constant communication with the subject, Martin Small, who lived in a nearby town. Shayne was able to keep Small's voice yet give this book almost a poetic feeling that leaves you reflective and as if you'd been through a journey by the time you finish reading it.
Profile Image for Paul.
815 reviews44 followers
June 6, 2015
This is an incredible book that I'd never heard of. I bought it on Bookbub for two or three dollars, and it is a bargain, to say the least. This memoir of the near-death and subsequent life of a mensch from a city that had disputed ownership over the centuries by Poland and Russia, is extremely moving and a factual account of how a person who considered himself "99 percent dead" after time in the Mauthausen concentration camp was able to survive and become a heroic person, no longer afraid of death because he considered himself to have died in the camp.

When the camp was liberated by American soldiers, prisoners were squeezed like sardines onto three-layer bunks with only boards to sleep on. The U.S. troops were able to pick the few living among the human skeletons by seeing which people blinked when the flies landed on their eyes. Small was one of them, and he spent a long convalescence in conquered Italy before he felt fully human again. He recovered to live into his 90s, and these descriptions of concentration camp life and the rootlessness of camp survivors who weren't wanted by any Western nations is meticulously and visually recounted.

The book is also a fascinating depiction of camp survivors at the end of the war and how the Jewish state was created out of rocks, barrels, and recovered materiel in Italy.

I would highly urge EVERYONE to read this book. It's a testament of history.
Profile Image for Randell Green.
Author 3 books26 followers
August 29, 2019
Intense memoir capturing the horrors of the Holocaust. Overcame one tragedy after another and contains one unbelievable and remarkable twist. 🇵🇱 🇵🇱 🇵🇱
Profile Image for Sara.
852 reviews23 followers
April 10, 2012
What an amazing book. The first 1/3 of the book is happy memories from Mr. Small's childhood. I learned more about Jewish life and customs from this book than I have any other sources.

The second third of this book is absolutely heartbreaking. It tells of his family's murder and his experiences running from the Nazis and surviving the hell of Mauthausen concentration camp. I had to put the book down in the middle and ground myself, it was so awful - he says he left out the brutal details, I can't even imagine... it still blows my mind that people did this to each other. This story needs to be told again and again so that we never forget.

The last third describes life after his miraculous rescue, and how he copes with the post traumatic stress and moves on. The ending will take your breath away, as everything comes full circle, and you will find yourself in tears again.

Profile Image for Mandy.
527 reviews6 followers
February 19, 2018
This was a different kind of Holocaust Survival story. Yes, Mr. Small discusses some of the awful things that happened to him and his family during the Holocaust, but this book was more than that. This book was really broken into three parts. Before, during, and after the Holocaust.

The before section included wonderful descriptions of his town/Shtetl, his religion, traditions, family, friends. This part really gave the reader a glimpse of things lost. For Mr. Small it serves as documentation for future generations on what once was. His family and home that he lost. I learned quite a bit about Jewish traditions and cultures.

The section about his struggle during the Holocaust reminds the reader on how awful people can be and what had happened. I found it interesting that while he discusses this, it is not the major focus of the book. Maybe some of that is that even with time, it was so difficult to think of and discuss those atrocities for Mr. Small. I can not fathom.

I found the section about what happened to him after the Holocaust to be quite interesting. Mr. Small did so much for displaced people, mostly Jewish individuals, after the Holocaust. I learned about how hard and how long it took many people to find new homes. Going back to their homes was really not an option. Mr. Small's persistence and bravery was/is inspiring.

When discussing why he shares his story, his artwork, or why he survived he mentions "At the very least people should know what happened and what was lost. I want them to pause, to think, not about me, but about themselves, their own character, and their own families. Without such reflective thoughts, there can be no change for the future and no appreciation for the suffering of others".

4.5 stars rounded up. I really appreciated this book and how it was a little different than other Holocaust books.
Profile Image for Megan.
210 reviews
October 14, 2017
Almost unbelievable.

I struggle with what to say about this book. Difficult to read, yes, but very good. I will be thinking about it for a long time, I’m certain. My main thought right now, having just finished it, is that I am so grateful Martin Small took the time to record his story. His descriptions of his childhood and adolescence in Poland were so vivid that I felt I could imagine the scenes. His miraculous survival and all that he went through during the Holocaust... simply mind-blowing. I won’t include any spoilers here, but his story is _almost_ unbelievable. It’s one of those times when truth is stranger than fiction, in the way that things played out and all the coincidences he experienced. I wondered at times if these things could have possibly happened the way he described. But, though I don’t know this man from Adam, something about his writing, his “voice,” just makes me trust him. I do believe he wrote this story as accurately as he possibly could. I highly recommend to all who are interested in this time period.
Profile Image for Carol Lieberman.
49 reviews2 followers
September 5, 2014
Impact of the Holocaust Again

I was an American Jewish child during the great war. My relatives, all first generation immigrants from European Jewish homes, had enlisted in the armed forces. At home I went to Hebrew school, I was a Jew, but did not know all that as a 76 year old, I know now. I never fully understood the passion for Israel as I do know. Martin Small looms large to me and his story is so vivid I can never forget. It is a must read for any Jew at least in this current Israeli turmoil.

Profile Image for Wildon Mitter.
9 reviews
August 7, 2022
This was a great book. I have always heard the statistics from the Holocaust. This book took you behind the numbers and let you know the people. One of the things that affected me the most were the photographs. There is a photograph of a huge, extended family identified as having been taken at a wedding. The next sentence says everybody in this picture were murdered in 1942.
13 reviews
June 3, 2016
Unique perspective

I have read several bios of this time period, and this book is quite a different view than I am used to reading. It was still good, informative, well written...just different.
Profile Image for STANLEYCOX.
46 reviews
September 12, 2014
Never forget

I will never forget this book. it had a constant pull on me till I finished it. It gave me a great perspective on the Holocaust.
Profile Image for Cecilia.
619 reviews
May 28, 2019
I have read a number of books about the Holocaust over the years beginning about the year 1960 when as a highschooler I had an opportunity to work part time at a Jewish community center located in northwest Detroit. As a young thoroughly educated Catholic girl, the Jewish culture was a source of constant humor and a sarcastic sort of optimism. As well, I had the honor of meeting several men and a woman who had survived the Holocaust and were willing, in guarded terms, to share some of their experiences with me. I was born in 1942, too young to be aware of WWII, and none of my family fought because we were all new US citizens originally from Canada.

My innate sense of empathy and my tendency to call out bullying even in kindergarten, predisposed me to learn about this most inhumane and hateful period in recent history. I continue to seek out books on this tragedy (a word that accurately and truly describes the Holocaust does not exist). This book is very powerful, beautifully written to capture the ugly and the miraculous experiences of Mr. Small.

I would like to think that if the Holocaust deniers and all ethnic haters would take the time to read a selection of books that truthfully and documentedly (probably not a word but I'm using it anyway) describe this atrocity, they might soften their beliefs and acknowledge this did happen. Sadly, most won't, especially today in the US where anger, selfishness, hate and evil seem so commonplace.

It hurts my physically to have knowledge of the pain and suffering of so many men, women and children. Mankind may be the most intelligent creature but sadly mankind also is the most evil.
439 reviews5 followers
March 25, 2017
I read a lot about the Holocaust , but this was one of the best ever. The writing is beautiful and pulls you right into it. I love that a big chunk of the book was not about the Holocaust but the time before. It gives you a sense of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, before Hitler, when there was a stable rich culture and a tight knit loving community. It is important that we know what was lost as well as how it was lost.

The section actually about the Nazi take over, the concentration camps, etc is as devastating as you would expect, but is the smallest part of the book. It told be something I really didn't understand or want to understand: Some of the Polish Gentiles immediately started killing Jews when the Nazis came, not because it was "their job" or they were ordered to. More like the hatred that had been festering under cover for decades? centuries? was suddenly unleashed and they were free to act on those feelings. Reminds me uncomfortably of what is going on in the US today.

The remainder of the book is the aftermath, the next fifty + years. How the author made it to a new country and created a whole new life. The really poignant part is that even though he makes what looks like a lovely new life, successful business man, wife and children and grandchildren, community, purpose, NEVER do the nightmares and traumatic memories of the Holocaust leave him. We tend to think that time and positive new experiences heal. But what happened to Martin Small is a wound that never heals.
Profile Image for Wendy.
396 reviews5 followers
June 14, 2017
I have read a lot of books about the Holocaust mainly because I think it is important that we never forget that awful time in history. I picked this book up on Bookbub and am so glad I did.

Remember Us was about the personal journey of Martin Small who was a Jewish Holocaust survivor. I was rivited to his story from beginning to end and as I sit here writing I have an almost overwhelming feeling of sadness as I think about his story. To imagine how this man lived his life day in and day out with the horrors he went through is really unimaginable.

Martin's story didn't just dwell on the horrors of a concentration camp but also on the happy loving life he had before the persecution of the Jews began. He had a loving family whom all perished and by writing this book he has ensured that the memory of his family will never truly disappear.

Years ago I visited Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria where Martin ended up. There are no words that depict the atrocities that happened there. For this amazing man to survive and then have the courage to tell his story is truly remarkable.

All Martin really wanted as he said: 'for the sake of all that was lost; all that used to be; and all that could have been; all we can do is remember.'

People often tell me they have read enough books about the Holocaust because it is so sad and depressing but if we don't read these stories in time we will forget and history has a habit of repeating itself. It is important we remember what happened to all of the victims of the Holocaust because as fellow human beings we should care.
Profile Image for Erik.
4 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2019
This is one of the best, most emotional books I have ever read. We have all read or heard about both WW2 and concentration camps (or at least I hope so), but generally from an American perspective.

This is the first book I've read that focuses on a Polish Jew's life leading up to and following that horror. I think there were maybe 10 pages dedicated to Mauthausen.

There's an almost Forrest Gump quality to this man's life, and yet there was only another ten pages dedicated to his participation in fighting off the Egyption army to establish Israel.

I have not openly weeped this hard while reading a book perhaps ever. It's an easy read (and short) and yet possibly the most psychologically exhausting book I have ever read.

I've said this several times over the past year, but this should be required reading, especially today. Decipher that as you will, but it's a good gut check on your humanity and whether or not your sense of empathy is developed or underdeveloped.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
Author 9 books241 followers
April 10, 2019
Harrowing and rich in its depth; the book chose to portray the rich shtetl life, and then the deep horror of the killings by the Nazis and by the protagonist's family's Polish neighbors, some counted as friends for many years. The good people, the depths of human slime, the sudden saviors. It goes on to the unbelievable world of Mauthausen Concentration Camp; I read the daily life and remember in a badly recalled quote, "we should read not to understand, but to know that we can never understand." I cannot understand. And somehow in the end the author finally gets to America and lives a productive life until he is very old. What moving writing! That this all took place in my lifetime astonishes me; I was born two years before the war ended, safe in my lovely bassinet in NYC. Had my grandparents not come to America, I would likely not be writing this review.
Profile Image for Degenerate Chemist.
833 reviews17 followers
August 7, 2021
I've been sitting here for 15 minutes trying to start this review. I'm not sure I have the words I need to describe what I just finished reading.

This account of the Holocaust is a must read. It really drives home the sheer scope of what was lost in a way I haven't seen in other accounts of the Holocaust. Ultimately this book is about a unique culture that was obliterated and the people who made up that culture. The topic that really gets driven home in this account is how quickly friends and neighbors turned on the Jewish population in these towns- and with very little prompting from German occupiers.

It is a hard read and difficult to get through. I had to stop several times because the brutality described was too much for me and I need time to compose myself.

Ultimately this is exactly the type of work I think everyone should read.
Profile Image for Tandi Caldwell.
25 reviews2 followers
July 26, 2018
One of the Top 10 Holocaust Memoirs In My Collection!

As a little girl, I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and I have not stopped reading every Holocaust story, book, memoir or material I could. If you finish reading one and there are no words, then you know that it is a good one. This book truly honored the victim's family in such a beautiful way. The tragedy is unimaginable. While not giving away any spoilers, the way the author crossed paths with liberators was nothing short of miraculous. His account of defending off the Egyptians was one I had never read about. I took a lot away from reading this book and would count many passages of wisdom right there with Elie Weisel and Primo Levi. 5 stars!
1,204 reviews14 followers
December 15, 2020
This story of survival is told in three sections: of a young man whose family simply didn't believe that their neighbors would turn on them after decades of community cohabitation, of the years he spent in a hell of the government's making as he came to terms with the evil that men could do, and of the sixty years afterward where he was both traumatized with nightmares and memories of which he could not speak and as an artist who was able to share those memories through his carvings and his willingness to stand in front of an audience and witness to his pain in the hopes that something like the Holocause would never happen again. This man is a survivor and a hero. I hope we never have to see another person learn that he or she also has this internal strength.
Profile Image for Donna Woodard.
183 reviews1 follower
December 19, 2021
“ There can never be an excuse that would explain how neighbors and friends can turn into heartless killers overnight,” and this was the missing part of my understanding of the holocaust story. Mr. Small adds a deep understanding of his family and community before his neighbors turned into murderers. You will come to love his family as he brings them to life. You too will be unable to understand…
But this book truly is “a bridge to another time and place” where human beings were made “to walk to their own funerals” to their own graves! But, “the pages are glued together with … the troubled memories and best wishes for a better tomorrow. “
You will feel outrage, despair, amazement, love, and hope. I really can’t praise this book enough.
Profile Image for Carla.
179 reviews5 followers
January 1, 2022
Great listen. The book is basically broken down in the 3 stages of Motek Shmulevicz now know as Martin Small. He describes his life growing up with all the traditions of a polish Jew with his close friends and family. Then unspeakable events start occurring, the unimaginable, and the struggle to survive. Lastly is his liberation form Mauthausen concentration camp.

There was a reunion in the book of sorts that brought me to tears.

It's hard to imagine the atrocities the Jews suffered during these times and how any man could do this to another human being. And it's unimaginable how anyone survived the torture both mental and physical. For someone to say it didn't happen is calling these people liars with disrespect and our soldiers who saw with their own eyes the camps and the
Profile Image for Judy.
705 reviews10 followers
November 18, 2019
Based on his memories of a 91-year-old survivor of the Holocaust, Martin Small recounts his childhood in a loving Polish Jewish family that is destroyed by the arrival of Hitler’s armies. Martin ends up in a work camp, then escapes to take part in resistance the movement, then is caught and sent to Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The books also covers his life after the war in a displaced person’s camp, also horrific, and something I knew little about. Ultimately, Martin ends up in New York, where he creates a new life for himself. While I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book, I found the last 1/3 less compelling.
116 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2019
Martin Small

An extraordinary book of a holocaust survivor. What does this mean ( holo - combining form) (caust - a burnt offering, destruction, or slaughter). I won’t give up any part of his story because you should all read it. Not only did Martin Small go through a hellish living nightmare, but he also helped implement a home for all Jews to live in peace without persecution. He is a hero that was meant to survive. READ IT.
56 reviews
June 10, 2018
I will remember

A book that cannot be closed. This story is one that should be on the Must Read list in every school, library, magazine and other periodicals. Mr. Smalls story must be read and understood to prevent another holocaust from happening. This must never happen again.
515 reviews7 followers
February 25, 2019
This is the very moving account of Martin’s life. Three phases or periods are covered- growing up, the Holocaust and his harrowing experience, and his life after surviving. I don’t remember who recommended this book but it is such a powerful story and the way it is told. I highly recommend this book.
May 21, 2022
Incredibly written. Highly suggested for those seeking more information about what life was like during the holocaust and why it was so difficult for survivors to tell their stories. My grandparents and parents never spoke of their past. And if something was said that they didn’t want us kids to hear, it was said in Yiddish.
4 reviews
January 31, 2018
Amazing and touching story

This book shows us the amazing rich life torn apart by evil, driven by determination and rescued by bravery to pursue a new life. The horrors of the Holocaust will renew ones commitment to fight bigotry.
Profile Image for Karin Bright.
5 reviews1 follower
April 12, 2019

From start to finish this story was so powerful. From a childhood filled with a rich cultural and Family heritage to an ending that was truly inspiring, Martin Small's story will never be forgotten by anyone who reads this incredible book!
155 reviews
October 2, 2019
We learn of one man's journey from a Hebrew scholar in eastern Poland through the Holocaust and into the modern era. We feel his pain for what has been lost and destroyed in Eastern European Jewish customs and life. As we lose the survivors this is one piece that keeps their memory alive.
15 reviews
February 20, 2020
Phenomenal report on the Holocaust. Poignant. Horrific.

Beyond words. This account covers a wide range of Holocaust experiences. It’s well-written, easy to read but the sections on concentration camps are not for youth.
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