The Holocuast Lover-a historical novel in two volumes

This historical novel by Matt Nesvisky, a former writer for both The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report, takes the reader on an emotional ride from the revolt at Sobibor to present day

The Holocaust Lover Matt Nesvisky Published independently 2018 397 pages; $12 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Holocaust Lover Matt Nesvisky Published independently 2018 397 pages; $12
(photo credit: Courtesy)

It is a startling, deliberately ambiguous title for a book about a subject that defies understanding. Is The Holocaust Lover about a person somehow in love, or obsessed, with the Holocaust, or about a person whose lover is? Or both?
This historical novel by Matt Nesvisky, a former writer for both The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report, who died in Pennsylvania on August 22, 2018, at the age of 75, takes the reader on an emotional roller-coaster ride from the revolt at Sobibor to present-day Philadelphia, with stops in between at major Jewish events in Soviet Russia and the United States.
The narrative unfolds as a love story, beginning when an official at the pseudonymous American Jewish Coalition, “a Professional American Jew,” attends a Holocaust conference and falls in love with a survivor’s daughter looking for information about her father’s role in the breakout from Sobibor on October 14, 1943.
Tobsha Pechersky is the editor of the similarly pseudonymous International Bulletin of Jewish Armed Resistance in World War II. Her fictional pedigree is the daughter of a hero of the Sobibor uprising, who believes her late father was the estranged brother of Red Army Lieutenant Alexander (Sasha) Pechersky, the leader of the revolt. A major thread of the story involves the persistence of Jewish identity through the crucible of the Holocaust, revealed through the unwinding of the brothers’ stories.
The saga begins in a clearing in the forest outside Sobibor, where the Pechersky brothers, Sasha and Michael, and Tobsha’s future mother, Luka, had fled with some 200 survivors of the nearly 400 who made it through the wire before being shot down, stepping on land mines or being hunted down. The brothers part bitterly: Sasha is determined to return to his army unit and resume the fight against Adolf Hitler; Michael does not trust Joseph Stalin’s communism and feels his first loyalty is to the Jewish partisans, not the Red Army.
As Tobsha relates, “Sasha and the other POWs headed for the Russian side of Bug River. Michael and Luka, my parents, headed for the Parczew Forest. Maybe the brothers told themselves they would all meet up after the war. But they never met again.”
Tobsha, or Toby, was indeed obsessed by the Holocaust. She felt compelled as the daughter of survivors to tend the eternal flame of memory, by publishing research and the testimonies of survivors. She was sitting in the lobby of the Miami Fontainebleau, which was hosting a Holocaust symposium, wearing a hand-lettered placard that displayed
PECHERSKY/PECZERSKI/SOBIBOR. It was one of similar signs carried by other attendees, an invitation: “Read my name, stop, confer. So many men and women with those sad, desperate placards.”
The difference was Toby’s beauty, which smote the narrator: “Beautiful. Beautiful. Oh, achingly beautiful face. Oh, weepingly beautiful woman.”
Of course, she was smart, too; a combination that led to encounters in the US, Russia and Israel, amplified through two volumes of exquisite writing that extended for a total of 962 pages. Beyond the prose, particularly distinguished by the witty dialogue of the many characters, The Holocaust Lover is a constant source of facts about the ways and means of genocide, many of them a revelation.
Nesvisky was a journalism professor at Kutztown University near Philadelphia, before his untimely death of cancer in 2018. But before that, for 16 years, he was a senior editor, chief copy editor, reporter and feature writer at The Jerusalem Post. He lived in Israel for some 20 years and was a proud veteran of the IDF Artillery Corps.
Full disclosure: Matt was my mentor, colleague and friend. In many ways he was like an older brother to me, but our link was much more profound. We grew up in the same Pittsburgh neighborhood, attended the same high school and university and both got our start in journalism writing columns for the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. I inherited his Senior Scene and Campus Scene, but had never met him until joining the night desk at the Post in 1980.
That should be enough coincidence for anyone – if you believe in coincidences. But what struck this reader with the most resonance about The Holocaust Lover was my personal connection with the Sobibor revolt. Alexander Pechersky was my grandmother Rivka Pechersky’s cousin.
The Holocaust Lover might be the literary equivalent of three-dimensional chess, due to its multiple levels of meaning. Nesvisky elaborates on the venerable theme of the e0xamined life being the one worth living, but the examination is conducted against the background of antisemitism from the Dearborn of Henry Ford to America today, to Sobibor, to Holocaust denial, to the struggle to free Soviet Jewry – and all of it wrapped around a poignant story of love and betrayal.
As a guard at Sobibor is quoted as saying, “Hier ist kein Warum” – there is no why here. No explanation, except perhaps the survival of a basic human instinct. As the narrator concludes, “I love whatever it was that brought us together. I love the Holocaust.”
The author is a former chief copy editor and editorial writer of The Jerusalem Post
The Holocaust Lover
Matt Nesvisky
Published independently 2018