Two tales of WWII atrocities – one fiction and one not but both important.


WWII gives examples of the best documented atrocities of the 20th century. It was by no means the first occasion, that dubious honor probably goes to the Turk slaughter of the Armenians. It was probably not the worst – Hitler must take a back seat to both  Stalin and Mao for numbers and possibly to the Indian partition or Pol Pot’s killing fields for ferocity. As the century turned the Balkans and sub Saharan Africa proved that ethnic cleansing and slaughter was still in vogue.

What makes the Holocaust – and associated pogroms – unique is that they are so well documented. From Wannsee to Nuremberg there are tens of thousands of pages of evidence documenting what is, sadly, a fraction of the slaughter. Since Nuremberg there have been more tens of thousands of pages dedicated to the questions of How and Why? From shrill hatred to apologetics the participants in the argument often don’t seem to realize that their very attitudes may be the answer to How and Why.

A good many of our books deal with the Holocaust. We do not agree with all of them – probably don’t agree with most of them – but we think they are all important.

Our regard for history often keeps us from listing works of fiction that we might otherwise enjoy.  Giving history from the perspective of Alexander the Great’s groomsman – who in today’s age of relevance is probably also his secret lover – is a risky proposition, especially since the writer will most often have only the sketchiest factual information. There is something almost blasphemous about having Hannibal team up with Alexander the Great and take over China – throw in a bunch of 20th century mercenaries, complete with ray guns etc., to speed the process up and it is completely blasphemous.

However every once in a while a work of fiction may capture the essence of history. Solzhenitsyn’s  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich gives all of the import of the four volumes of the Gulag Archipelago, which is nothing less than magisterial, and George Steiner’s Portage to San Cristobal of AH captures in 176 pages what John Toland could not in 1,120 – and Toland is a fine historian. So we offer for your consideration a short tale of a backwater in a big war and a detailed history of the confused policies that made so much tragedy possible.

Gotz And Meyer David Albahari ; translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac Orlando, FL : Harcourt, 2005  Gec i Majer. English Hardcover. 1st U.S. ed. and printing. 168 p. ; 21 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Gotz and Meyer, two noncommissioned SS officers, are entrusted with an assignment, “not a big one,” but one that “requires efficiency.” Their task is to transport five thousand concentration camp prisoners, one hundred at a time, in a hermetically sealed truck in which they are gassed.

As Albahari’s anonymous narrator, a teacher, obsessively pursues the truth of this systematic annihilation, he shares his findings with his students. Their school bus becomes that truck, and as the memory of Belgrade’s lost Jewish souls is evoked, the students are bewildered. Their teacher, exhausted as much by the task of making history come alive as by the toll his research has taken on him, is finally overwhelmed by the horror of his own imaginings.

 

The Nazi persecution of the gypsies Guenter Lewy New York : Oxford University Press, 2000  World War, 1939-1945 Atrocities, Romanies Nazi persecution Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. ix, 306 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [275]-296) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

Roaming the countryside in caravans, earning their living as musicians, peddlers, and fortune-tellers, the Gypsies and their elusive way of life represented an affront to Nazi ideas of social order, hard work, and racial purity. They were branded as “asocials,” harassed, and eventually herded into concentration camps where many thousands were killed. But until now the story of their persecution has either been overlooked or distorted.

In The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, Guenter Lewy draws upon thousands of documents – many never before used – from German and Austrian archives to provide the most comprehensive and accurate study available of the fate of the Gypsies under the Nazi regime. Lewy traces the escalating vilification of the Gypsies as the Nazis instigated a widespread crackdown on the “work-shy” and “itinerants.” But he shows that Nazi policy towards Gypsies was confused and changeable. At first, local officials persecuted gypsies, and those who behaved in gypsy-like fashion, for allegedly anti-social tendencies. Later, with the rise of race obsession, Gypsies were seen as a threat to German racial purity, though Himmler himself wavered, trying to save those he considered “pure Gypsies” descended from Aryan roots in India.

Indeed, Lewy contradicts much existing scholarship in showing that, however much the Gypsies were persecuted, there was no general program of extermination analogous to the “final solution” for the Jews.
Exploring in heart-rending detail the fates of individual Gypsies and their families, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies makes an important addition to our understanding both of the history of this mysterious people and of all facets of the Nazi terror.

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