The Book

Grasping at Straws: Letters from the Holocaust

by Steven D. Wasserman

Praise for Grasping at Straws

Not for the faint of heart.

“Not for the faint of heart. This book is both beautiful and difficult to read, but I urge people to do just that. Steve Wasserman has done a loving service to both his family and all those of Jewish faith by bearing witness with this book, a long and accurate picture of the Holocaust and his own personal connection through parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and their family and friends. He writes the brutal, naked truth of what people lived and died through during that time. It will enlighten, sadden and anger you beyond what you can imagine…”

The book includes over 100 pictures.

Here are a few.

Introduction (an excerpt)

It was early morning on November 10, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. Streetcars moved slowly down Aachenerstrasse. They rolled past piles of shattered glass from storefront display windows and heaps of goods that mobs had looted from Jewish-owned stores and thrown into the street. Those passengers on the trolley who looked up from their newspapers saw—many with approval and some with horror and guilt—the word “Juden” scrawled on Jewish homes and commercial buildings…

More Reviews

Fascinating account

This is a fascinating account of a German/Jewish family going through the horrific events of the first half of the 20th century. While the narrative, anchored in the family records and historical documents, is laid out straightforwardly and the horrific shape of history is well known, I found myself completely engrossed in the story, reading late into the night and picking up the book first thing in the morning.

Family members speak for themselves through the letters full of hope, concern, humor, despair, trivial and immensely significant details in a way that’s more powerful than a fictional account would be. Through the lens of the family events the book does a great job at setting up historical context illustrating the pre-WWII lifestyle of German jewish families. We get to follow the story a society sliding from prejudice to unprecedented mass-murder one indignity and cruelty at a time. Through several related story lines we get to understand the world’s indifference reflected in Kafka-esque immigration policies as well as heart-wrenching choices families faced in attempting to escape or save the loved ones. As the events of the Holocaust become increasingly distant it’s easy to think of it as one singular horrific thing illustrated by statistics. Grasping at Straws primarily captures fascinating details but, I felt, it also indirectly asks the question, what would you do in their place? I couldn’t put it down.

Not all tragedy

This is a small part of the Holocaust story that is too easy to overlook because it is not all tragedy. And unlike many of it’s kind it includes the historical background so that the reader can feel and understand the reactions of real Germans to the developing situation. Yes, there are victims and survivors, villains and heroes, but it is harder to use those labels when one is focused on the details of daily life that the story is built on.

I knew three of the principal characters of this story personally, and many of the places. But the book captured them in their own words so well, that I lost awareness of the people I knew 30 years later. As scholarly as it is written, the book held my attention as much as all the fictional Herman Wouk volumes I have reread over the years.
Read, enjoy, learn, and grow in wisdom.

A book everyone should read

This is a book that everyone should read. It is historically insightful and a detailed explanation of the steps the Germans took to first disenfranchise the Jews and then exterminate them. It is also a family history full of love and emotion. And, it is well written and a great read. It teaches us to never forget the Holocaust and should remind us that if we are not vigilant it could happen again. Mr. Wasserman has done a masterful job of combining his family’s history and world events occurring during the Holocaust and thereafter into a page-turning story that is hard to put down.

Meticulously researched

This is a well-written, meticulously researched, direct, gut-wrenching and heart warming account of an extended family who faced the Holocaust; those that somehow survived and those who died in the horrific death camps. Highly recommended.

A story of resilience

This is a finely written and researched story of a successful Jewish family, as they try to deal with the creeping repression in Germany of the Nazi regime in the years leading to WWII. There is the anxious and thrilling story of the escape of some, and the loss of others in the Holocaust. The letters and details give it a vivid personal tone. It’s a story of resilience in the face of evil. We need these stories told and retold, so that we can never forget. Unfortunately, it’s a story still relevant in the face of totalitarian impulses in the world today.

Library of Congress Information

Names: Wasserman, Steven, author.

Title: Grasping at straws : letters from the Holocaust / Steven Wasserman.

Description: Includes bibliographical references. | San Francisco, CA: Sola Hill Press, 2021.

Identifiers: LCCN: 2021920467 | ISBN: 979-8-9850308-1-5 (hardcover) | 979-8-9850308-0-8 (paperback) | 979-8-9850308-2-2 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH Ichenhäuser family–Correspondence. | Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)–Germany. | Jews–Persecutions–Germany–Cologne. | Holocaust victims–Germany–Cologne–Biography. | Holocaust survivors–Germany–Cologne–Biography. | Jews, German–Biography. | Germany–History–20th century–Biography. | Germany–Social conditions–20th century. | BISAC HISTORY / Holocaust | HISTORY / Europe / Germany

Classification: LCC DS135.G33 W37 2021 | DDC 940.53/1809–dc23