Richard Burger's Reviews > Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience

Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny
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's review
Feb 23, 12

really liked it
Read in January, 2011

Gitta Sereny is perhaps the most thorough, meticulous interviewer I've ever read. As if she's unpeeling an onion layer by layer, she leads us into the life and mind of her subject, the former Kommandant of Treblinka, Franz Stangl, and makes us feel, whether we want to or not, as if we know him and understand him. And that is a huge accomplishment, because it isn't easy to understand what motivated a man like Stangl, what kept him loyal to and even proud of his "work," and how he (and his family) lived with the knowledge of what he was part of.

With infinite patience, Sereny investigates everything he says, cross-checking each assertion with other witnesses and/or family members, determined to arrive at the truth. And by telling Stangl's story, she sheds new light on what the Holocaust was and how it was carried out by "ordinary men." It is to her credit that after countless hours of interviewing she finally got Stangl, at the very end, to acknowledge his guilt. It is no surprise that 19 hours after his admission to Sereny, Stangl feel dead of heart failure.

In what readers will probably find the most controversial aspect of the book Sereny makes quite clear that she believes Pope Pius XXII knew about what was going on in Poland and did next to nothing to help. The Vatican is part of the story, as it was the Vatican that helped Stangl (and many other Nazis) to flee Germany and settle in Brazil. While the section on the Vatican is long, it's also intriguing. I'll leave it to others to decide what the Pope could or should have done. It's clear, however, that Sereny believes he failed humanity.

My only issue with the book is that Sereny tries a bit too hard to footnote and (over)explain every detail that arises. Some of her sentences are so thick with parenthetical phrases they're hard to read, and she sometimes dwells on small things. But that is a tiny criticism. This is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in the Holocaust in general and Treblinka in particular. Her profiles of the death camp's survivors such as Richard Glazar are especially vivid and unforgettable. A superb, important book.
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