One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and a search for a Lost World by Michael Frank

One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and a Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank

This non-fiction memoir deserves no less than 5 stars, or whatever maximum is possible in your systems of rating books. I read this as an educator, a professor of modern history who teaches a course focusing on tracing the origins of the world’s conflicts and oppressions.

The plot traces Stella’s life, from her earliest memories, growing up in the 1930s in the Juderia, a Jewish community on a tiny island in the Mediterranean, Rhodes. Each chapter is a few pages, capturing a vignette of her memory of a particular moment, woven with enough historical context to understand the relationship of this memory with world history at large.

A good third of Frank’s book focuses on Stella’s life in Rhodes during the 1930s and the early 1940s, before 1,650 Jews were rounded up, taken from the island, and sent to the concentration camps in Europe. At least 90% of them would not survive their internment.

This chronological focus is Stella’s explicit choice; the story of her life is not grounded in the Holocaust. The book seeks to excavate and exhibit the world of Rhodes that was destroyed by the Holocaust; it is not a novel of the Holocaust, though that is an ineluctable element in this conversation of Rhodes’ history. That said, the second half of the book is a raw account of Stella’s experience of the journey to and inside several camps, including Auschwitz. The final sections of the book focus on Stella’s — and others — lives afterwards: the struggle to come to terms with the loss of Rhodes, their physical and cultural home, the effects of the Holocaust on themselves and their families and children.

The book makes an ideal choice for an undergraduate history course: First, it is short as a whole, according to Good Reads, 240 pages (I read the galley e-version from NetGalley which did not have accurate page numbering). Second, being published for a non-academic audience, One Hundred Saturdays uses very accessible language. The tone, style, and format are conversational. Sometimes, the dialogue between Michael and Stella is transparent; sometimes it is Michael’s voice overlaid over Stella’s, providing the reader with necessary context; at other times, Stella’s voice is unmistakable. Third, the memories and chapters are neatly and discretely separated into digestible — assignable — chunks, making it easy for any instructor to parcel out readings and sections to fit their curriculum. (I have assigned holocaust readings, usually Elie Wiesel’s Night, but I may consider assigning One Hundred Saturdays instead, easily.)

The fourth reason is that Stella’s perspective as a woman gives us a way to understand the gendered experience more fully. This is not to say there is a dearth of female Holocaust survivors or stories by female survivors; but this one pays especial attention to women’s concerns and experiences. The final reason this is appropriate for use in the college level history classroom is the book’s focus on how the holocaust, anti-semitism, and racial laws unfolded outside of Europe proper. Students are rarely given a view of the Holocaust outside of Germany and Western Europe in general. But One Hundred Saturdays gives the reader a more holistic view of this history through its examination of Italy’s involvement and discussing the Turkish presence in the Mediterranean. I would say this is one of the most significant contributions of Levi’s story and Frank’s book.

This is a book worth reading, over and over. Like many books written of the Shoah, this book will remind you of your humanity.

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