By Daniel Mendelsohn
REVIEWED BY JONATHAN DURBIN
Haunted since childhood by whispered tales about his great-uncle’s family, victims of the Nazis during World War II, Mendelsohn decided to search for the truth behind their fate. In this excellent memoir, he recounts his travels to interview survivors and transcribe accounts of the horrifically creative atrocities committed against the Jews of Bolechow, his uncle’s Ukraine hometown. One woman recalls that the machine-gunfire from a mass killing “was so terrible that her mother … took down a decrepit old sewing machine and had run the treadle, so that the creaky noise would cover the gunfire.” Mendelsohn remains tightly focused on his own family, but the details of everyday life he includes offer vivid insight into what it must have been like to live through the war. Essentially a detective story, The Lost winds up describing far more than Mendelsohn’s relatives: It brings to life the struggle of an entire generation.