The Jews' growing consciousness of what was coming, and their ineffective efforts to escape, as well as of the efforts of Jews elsewhere (and the indifference and hostility of so many non-Jews) are harrowing. Wasserstein quotes a number of poems and statements showing how aware and desperate the Jewish people became. For example, a 1938 poem titled "Unser shtetl brent" -- Our town is burning." He quotes both the Yiddish and the translation:
"Everything around is on fire!The last two paragraphs of the book -- unbearable:
And you stand and stare
with folded arms,
and you stand and stare.
Our town is burning."
-- Mordkhe Gebirtig (p. 50)
"They might be captains of their souls but they were not masters of their fate. Theirs was, for the most part, the agitated ineffectuality of flies sealed in a bottle, slowly suffocating.
"Wholly defenseless, largely friendless, and more and more hopeless, the European Jews, on the even of their destruction, waited for the barbarians." (p. 436)I knew the outlines of this horrific part of history. But the details are important, if you can stand to learn about them.