Thursday, June 2, 2022
What They Didn't Burn, Mel Laytner's Search for His Father's Holocaust Secrets, Book Review
What They Didn't Burn: Uncovering My Father's Holocaust Secrets by Mel Laytner is an amazing, riveting story. Laytner, an extremely talented writer, reveals a lot as he tracks down his father's secrets. Laytner, the elder of two brothers, discovered that his quiet father was not only a Holocaust survivor, but he had been a canny and successful black market wheeler dealer
I must admit that the author and I first met in the mid-1960s when I joined Betar. We've seen each other very infrequently over the years, but when I heard that he had finally published his father's Holocaust story I wanted to read it. Laytner gave me and my husband a copy.
Among our Betar friends, there are two distinct types, those like me and my husband whose parents were American born and raised, and there were those whose parents were survivors, or had left just in time. We whose parents were American raised can never really imagine what our friends had lived with, which frequently meant that their parents kept many secrets from them.
Laytner's quest to discover the truth about his father took him many years. By the time he had the time to devote to it, few sources were still alive. He had to travel a lot to talk to people and see old government records in Europe. A few times his brother accompanied him, but mostly he did it alone. Laytner used his journalist skills to interview and research. His success and the subsequent book couldn't have been accomplished by someone without those skills.
Laytner's parents were both Holocaust survivors who worked hard day and night at all sorts of jobs, trying all sorts of businesses, too, when they got to New York. At one point they owned a candy store open seven days a week. That was the same drive that got them through the Holocaust, but during the Holocaust Laytner's father even traded diamonds on the black market, among other things. I'd say that Laytner inherited that drive, since he needed similar smarts to discover his father's true story.
Think of What They Didn't Burn as an exciting treasure hunt, and Mel Laytner takes us along for the ride. I highly recommend the book for readers of all ages.