Hell's Traces One Murder, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials
An unsentimental meditation on memory and loss that recounts the author’s search for a Holocaust memorial that speaks to the death of his young cousin
In July 1942, the French police in Paris, acting for the German military government, arrested Victor Ripp’s three-year-old cousin. Two months later, Alexandre was killed in Auschwitz. To try to make sense of this act, Ripp looks at it through the prism of family history. In addition to Alexandre, ten members of Ripp’s family on his father’s side died in the Holocaust. The family on his mother’s side, numbering thirty people, was in Berlin when Hitler came to power. Without exception they escaped the Final Solution.
Hell’s Traces tells the story of the two families’ divergent paths not as distant history but as something experienced directly. To spark the past to life, Ripp visited Holocaust memorials throughout Europe. A memorial in Warsaw that included a boxcar like the ones that carried Jews to Auschwitz made him contemplate the horror of Alexandre’s ride to his death. A memorial in Berlin invoked the anti-Jewish laws of 1930s. This allowed Ripp to better understand how the family there escaped the Nazi trap.
Ripp saw thirty-five memorials in six countries. He encountered the artists who designed the memorials, historians who recalled the events that the memorials honor, and Holocaust survivors with their own stories to tell. Hell’s Traces is structured like a travel book where each destination provides an example of how memorials can recover and also make sense of the past.
An unsentimental meditation on memory and loss that recounts the author's search for a Holocaust memorial that speaks to the death of his young cousin.
"[Ripp] takes a journey of remembrance as he attempts to make sense of his family's past . . . With a deft touch, [he] has written one of the more unusual yet effective Holocaust histories. He doesn't preach, just shows." --Library Journal"Ripp is an engaging and empathic writer who has found a unique, moving way to tell his extended family's story during the Holocaust and to memorably honor his martyred cousin." --Publishers Weekly"[Ripp] maintains an emotional honesty above all . . . An idiosyncratic work striving for sense and meaning from a family record of enormous loss and obfuscation." --Kirkus"Hell's Traces is a brief book that is vast and deep in its fiercely unsentimental consideration of how we remember the Holocaust." --Andre Aciman"The Axis of Exile and the Axis of the Holocaust --the two axes that define the space of the Jewish Museum in Berlin--also define the fate of the family of Victor Ripp's family. While his mother's family chose the Axis of Exile, his father's family was devoured by the Axis of the Holocaust. The story of their lives, interwoven with the author's journey from one monument to another, is more powerful than so many of those made of stone." --Anna Bikont, author of The Crime and the Silence, winner of the National Jewish Book Award"A journey through six European countries in quest of the history of two families whose different fates were determined by the Shoah. Hell's Traces is a profound reflection on the ability of memory to recover meaning from oblivion." --Serge and Beatte Klarsfeld"Hell's Traces asks important questions about the tension between private remembrance and public memorialization. Ripp touchingly discovers a truth, something public memorials struggle to communicate: That the memory of those lost in the Holocaust, as well as of those who survived, is preserved only within us, in our own entanglement in history; and that the author himself is the memorial he seeks." --Glenn Kurtz, author of Three Minutes in Poland
Victor Ripp is the author of Moscow to Main Street, Pizza in Pushkin Square, and Turgenev's Russia. His fiction has appeared in Ontario Review and Antioch Review. He has taught at Cornell University and the University of Virginia. He lives in New Jersey.