The Lost Town: Bringing Back Trochenbrod – by Avrom Bendavid-Val – independent book review – Non-fiction/Memoir (World War II)

One of the saddest books I’ve ever read. But so very powerful in conveying the brutality, violence and evil of the Holocaust. Awarded five stars on Goodreads. Not because of its style, structure, or eloquence. But because of the uniqueness of both its content and the story of how the book came to be written.

Author Avrom Bendavid-Val’s interest in the subject originated with his father, who grew up in the small town of Trochenbrod, before emigrating to the United States. Like many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe (aka The Pale of Settlement), the father came to escape persecution and the random violence of anti-semetic pogroms.  Not surprisingly, he passed on little about these difficult events to his children. 

Years after his father’s death, Avrom Bendavid-Val, now older, became more interested in his father’s past and launched an intensive, multi-year search for information about Trochenbrod (aka Sofievka). For the very same reason I chose to read this book. My grandfather also grew up in Trochenbrod and I now want to know more about his history as part of family genealogy work I’m pursuing.

Through research, interviews, first-person accounts, and many visits to the area, Bendavid-Val has pieced together a history of this once vibrant town – the only city (outside of Palestine, now Israel) that was exclusively populated by Jews. A town that no longer exists. 

Located in the Northwest corner of what is now the Ukraine, Trochenbrod began in the early 1800s as a small Jewish farming settlement. This is notable in itself since the Jewish people historically are not farmers. By the start of World War II, Trochenbrod had grown into a thriving community of 6,000, a commercial hub for surrounding rural villagers. 

The Post Office in Trochenbrod
Photo from Wikipedia

Trochenbrod was initially governed  by Czarist Russia, then by Poland after World War I, by the Soviet Union at the start of World War II, and then by Nazi Germany during World War II. You can likely guess how this town met its end. In August 1942, Nazi soldiers and their local collaborators murdered nearly all the residents of Trochenbrod, looted their belongings, and destroyed most of the evidence the town ever existed. My Great-aunt, all but one of her children, and all her grandchildren were among those killed. 

A handful of residents escaped, providing some of the most dramatic witness accounts included in this book. It certainly does NOT make for easy reading. Though, like me, you will no doubt be inspired by the strength and determination of humans to survive unspeakable horrors. 

Author Avrom Bendavid-Val
Photo from WikiCommons

I believe strongly that stories of the Holocaust must be read and shared repeatedly — so that no one forgets (or denies) this vicious chapter in history. THE LOST TOWN is much more than just the story of Trochenbrod. It also serves as a tiny example of the tactics and techniques Nazi Germany deployed, enabling them to perpetrate one of the worst crimes against humanity ever recorded. Not for the faint of heart. But a book you won’t soon forget. 

More about the author, Avrom Bendavid-Val (1942-2023)

You may be interested in another book by the same author, THE HEAVENS ARE EMPTY: DISCOVERING THE LOST TOWN. OF TROCHENBROD.


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