“Hell’s Traces: One Murder, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials” by Victor Ripp— Memory and Loss


Ripp, Victor. “Hell’s Traces: One Murder, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials”, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2017.

Memory and Loss

Amos Lassen

Victor Ripp brings us an “unsentimental meditation on memory and loss” through his search for a Holocaust memorial that speaks to the death of his young cousin.

In July 1942, the Parisian police who were then acting for the German military government, arrested Victor Ripp’s three-year-old cousin. Then just two months later, young Alexandre was killed in Auschwitz. In attempting to understand this, Ripp looks at family history and learns that in addition to Alexandre, ten members of Ripp’s family on his father’s side died in the Holocaust. Thirty people on his mother’s side were in Berlin when Hitler came to power and all of them escaped the Final Solution. Looking at the two families’ as if he had experienced what they went through brings Ripp to visit Holocaust memorials throughout Europe. One of those memorials (in Warsaw), was a boxcar like the ones that carried Jews to Auschwitz and this is what brought him to contemplate the horror of Alexandre’s death. The memorial invoked the anti-Jewish laws of 1930s. and through this Ripp was better able to better understand how the family there escaped the Nazi trap.

Ripp visited thirty-five memorials in six countries. He met with artists who designed the memorials, historians who brought the events that the memorials honor back to life, and Holocaust survivors who had their own stories to tell. The book is structured like a travel book in which each destination gives an example of how memorials can help to recover as well as make sense of the past.