For anyone interested in the Holocaust, this is a compelling read. Chaim Melcer, who grew up in a sleepy little backwoods farm town called Sobibor, ha...moreFor anyone interested in the Holocaust, this is a compelling read. Chaim Melcer, who grew up in a sleepy little backwoods farm town called Sobibor, happened to be there on the day that German soldiers unloaded timber and rolls of barbed wire at the train station, and wondered what they were going to be building.
He describes the relations between Jews and their Polish neighbors before the war, and how they were transformed once the Germans arrived. He describes the hopeless, helpless feeling that descended on the Jews as they realized their fate. He describes the cries of the Jews as the trains pulled into the Sobibor train station. He describes, in devastating detail, what it was like to be inside a cattle car on your way to Sobibor--the Jews knew exactly what awaited them there--and what it was like to say goodbye to your family, forever.
There are heart-stopping escapes. Once, he leaps from the top of a moving train as it moves towards the concentration camp. Another time, captured and lined up against a wall to be shot, he jumps through an adjacent window as the soldiers open fire.
This is certainly an important historical document, full of description and detail. But this is also a story of survival. And, as Mr. Melcer testifies again and again, survival is a combination of savvy, drive, miracles and courage. (less)
I've met Jews who survived Auschwitz. I have never met anyone who survived Treblinka, never even heard of someone who survived. Now I know why. This b...moreI've met Jews who survived Auschwitz. I have never met anyone who survived Treblinka, never even heard of someone who survived. Now I know why. This book is a testament of unimaginable, incomprehensible horror. (less)
If you are going to read The Street of Crocodiles, this book is a necessary companion. On its own, the facts it contains would make an incredible movi...moreIf you are going to read The Street of Crocodiles, this book is a necessary companion. On its own, the facts it contains would make an incredible movie. A young man decides to cross town to find the author who wrote a story that changed his life, only to find that he was murdered three months earlier. He takes it upon himself to save the writer's memory.
Fighting against time, Ficowski interviews anybody who knew him and extracts their stories to spin the tale of Bruno Schulz's life. We learn about the frail child who feeds sugar to flies on the windowsill; the physically delicate schoolboy who makes friends with his wit and his drawings; the yearning artist desperate for time to write while working an exhausting job; the beloved art teacher; his sudden, unpredicted success; the beginning of the terrors of World War II; his protection by an otherwise vicious Nazi; his pathetic, senseless murder.
But the real magic of this book is the way Ficowski resurrects Schulz's writing, painstakingly collecting it in scared, secretive Soviet-occupied Poland, sending the stories to literary journals and sympathetic editors, keeping Schulz's name alive.
This book is a labor of love, written with a poet's sensitivity and understanding. Without Ficowski, it is frighteningly clear, there would be no Schulz. Everyone in his circle of friends, family and correspondents died in the Holocaust.
Also fascinating is the tug-of-war over his legacy. Is he a Jewish writer working in Polish? Or a Polish writer who happened to be born Jewish? In other words, does he belong to the world of Yad Vashem or to the town of Drohobych? The answer, of course, is both. (less)
If you are interested in the history of the 20th Century, Life and Fate is a necessary read. A tapestry of World War II Russia, it weaves together sto...moreIf you are interested in the history of the 20th Century, Life and Fate is a necessary read. A tapestry of World War II Russia, it weaves together story lines that take place in Stalingrad, in prison camps, on battlefields, on airfields, in big cities and small towns. The cast of characters, including imprisoned generals, political hacks, young and middle-aged lovers, Jews terrified of both the Nazis and the growing anti-Semitism in their own society, courageous old women and frightened soldiers, are players in a story unique to them and the period of time they live in; simultaneously, they are fighting against Hitler, and in dread of Stalin.
Grossman was an immensely popular war correspondent for Red Star, the Soviet military paper. He was also the first journalist, anywhere, to write about the concentration camps, which he saw when Treblinka was liberated by Russian troops. So when we are reading about soldiers taking cover from machine gun fire in Stalingrad, he was there. When we are reading about a woman who is walking down the smoothly curving hallways to the gas chamber, well, he was there, too.
World War II books tend to fall into categories; the prosecution of the war, told from the viewpoint of the soldiers; tales of resistance; Holocaust books; books from the German point of view. Life and Fate is all of these, in one compelling juggernaut of a package, extending a startling fairness to all sides, written by a clear-sighted Jewish Communist who is sick to death of the atrocities committed in the name of Good--atrocities committed by both the Nazis and his own government--and who has come to believe that in the end, the survival of our species will depend on human kindness. (less)
A completely riveting book, dealing mostly with one pivotal year, 1933, during the last few ticks of the clock before Hitler seized total power in Ger...moreA completely riveting book, dealing mostly with one pivotal year, 1933, during the last few ticks of the clock before Hitler seized total power in Germany. Larson parses every faction of the Nazi Party; every evil personality, every evil viewpoint, every indefensible position, in clear, breathlessly thrilling prose.
Roosevelt selects a new Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd. As he later finds out, he's not the President's first choice, or his second, or his third. No one wants the job, recognizing that it's a political hot potato. Dodd, a University of Chicago history professor, gets the nod because he happens to know someone in Roosevelt's intimate circle, his main qualification being that he spent some time in Germany when he was a student.
By the time he arrives in Berlin, the story turns into something out of John Le Carre. Dodd sees his job as representing, by example, the simple fundamental decency of the American way. The other men in the Foreign Office are all from the same social class, rich, catty and snobby, and behind his back, do their best to undermine his authority. Still, they understand something Dodd fails to see; the Nazis respect shows of power and might, not dignified diplomacy.
At the heart of the story is Martha Dodd, the ambassador's daughter, a beautiful and free-spirited young woman. She falls in love with the clean streets, the cheerful, hardworking citizenry, and the pretty Aryan boys, happily befriending and bedding high-placed Nazis, until she comes to realize that beneath the facade of bold banners and shiny uniforms is a political system steeped in conspiracy and terror.
The greatness of this book lies in the way it examines the events of that year with fresh and innocent eyes. There was a moment where disaster could have been averted, history altered, if only the right people had been paying attention to the right signals. (less)
This is an outstanding memoir of life as a Jewish partisan in Poland during World War II. Particularly well written, memorable for its descriptions of...moreThis is an outstanding memoir of life as a Jewish partisan in Poland during World War II. Particularly well written, memorable for its descriptions of the Polish resistance, of love and loss, and the triumphs that came with fighting back. (less)
The power of this book--and it is very powerful--lies in the use of unexpected words to describe a time, and events, that are terribly familiar to us....moreThe power of this book--and it is very powerful--lies in the use of unexpected words to describe a time, and events, that are terribly familiar to us. World War II, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Holocaust--they are recent history, and every schoolchild knows what happened in that place, in that time.
You will not find any of these names in this beautifully written poem of a book. The magic lies in the way Mr. Claudel finds new language to describe who and what he is talking about. Every time a figure or event from this well-traveled landscape of history arrives, it strikes at the heart all over again, as if you've never heard it before.
In a small town in a nameless country, a stranger has been murdered by a mob consisting of every man in the village. The stranger is known only as the Anderer, the Other. Brodeck, a man who has recently returned from a place that sounds very much like a concentration camp, is ordered to write an official report of what happened. As Brodeck investigates the murder, we learn the tragedy of his own history, the awful secret of why he was sent to the camp, and the horror of what individuals are capable of doing once they combine into a faceless mob. (less)
My father survived World War II hiding in a bunker under the town of Drohobych, so I feel eerily connected to this man and his work.
It would be fair...moreMy father survived World War II hiding in a bunker under the town of Drohobych, so I feel eerily connected to this man and his work.
It would be fair to call Bruno Schulz Poland's greatest twentieth century writer. This collection of stories changes the very definition of what a short story should be. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end, yes, but the writing is best described as delirious, hypnotic, dreamlike. You don't read Schulz for the plot; you read for the prose, the intensely sensual visuals, the way the words unfurl like the leaves of a magical vine. Inanimate objects struggle to come to life. Secret rooms grow strange, trapped gardens. A boy blows away with a gust of wind. His father conjures a flock of exotic birds from the pages of a picture book.
The details of his life are the stuff of legend. Bruno Schulz was a shy, frail, brilliant artist, Jewish and secular, who lived in the far eastern Polish town of Drohobych. When his father died, he took on the job of art teacher at the local high school to support his mother, sister and nephew, though he found the work both exhausting and consuming.
Drohobych was a particularly brutal place to be in the cauldron of World War II. Thousands of people were marched into the nearby forests and killed, or transported to Treblinka to be gassed. For a year, Schulz found a protector and patron in the person of Felix Landau, an art-loving Nazi whose war diary is well known. Tragically, he was shot to death around noon on November 19, 1942, at the intersection of Czaki and Mickiewicz Streets, on the eve of his planned escape.
These lushly worded stories give no warning of the conflagration that is to follow, but the reader's knowledge of Schulz's fate inescapably informs every line. Read The Street of Crocodiles if you're interested in what was lost in the fires of the Holocaust. Read it if you want to be consumed by fiction that burns like poetry. But by all means, read this book.(less)