“When Memory Comes” by Saul Friedlander— A Classic of Holocaust Literature


Friedlander, Saul. “When Memory Comes”, Other Press Reprint, 2016.

A Classic of Holocaust Literature

Amos Lassen

Saul Friedlander was born in Prague four months before Hitler came to power. His parents were middle-class Jews who, in 1939, were forced to flee to France where they lived through the German occupation before trying to get to Switzerland.

They were able to hide their son in a Roman Catholic seminary before being sent to Auschwitz where they were killed. Saul was forced into converting to Christianity and actually began to study for the priesthood but with the birth of Israel as an independent nation brought him back to Judaism as he rediscovered his Jewish past and his true identity.

Friedlander takes us back to the years leading up to World War II, from the period of his childhood to his contribution to the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. We are with him on his journey back in time as he struggles with the memories of his past to his rediscovery of who he is as a Jewish young man. We see his past leads him present. 

Friedlander leaves nothing out as he explores the ways in which the loss of his parents, his conversion to Catholicism, and his deep-seated Jewish roots came together to make him into the man he is today. Friedländer’s journey is one of grief and self-discovery and it provides readers with a memoir of feeling with intellectual backbone and his story is tender, honest and insightful. He describes his experiences elegantly and with grace. This is a book that will never be dated because of the author’s unique style in writing about the darkest period in human history. He shares his coming of age childhood in World War II-ravaged Europe and his memories of childhood and familial losses hint at his hard-earned triumphs (survival–and professional success) in the years that have followed.

The book is a classic of Holocaust literature that has now been reissued with a new introduction by Claire Messud. This is a story of recovery and meaningfulness that came out of unbearable trauma and it is likely to leave you shaken.

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