Tony's Reviews > Mendelssohn Is on the Roof

Mendelssohn Is on the Roof by Jiří Weil
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Sep 26, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-mainstream
Read in September, 2008

Weil, Jiri. MENDELSSOHN IS ON THE ROOF. (1960, trans. 1991). *****. Weil was one of the best known writers in Central Europe in the 1930s. In his youth he was a militant communist, but was later forced out of the party. In 1942, he was summoned for transport to a concentration camp, along with the rest of Prague’s Jews, but he feigned suicide and managed to hide out for the rest of the war. He died in Prague in 1959. This novel starts out in a way that makes you believe that it will be a comic retelling of some events during the war. But the tone quickly changes as you read on. In Prague, an ambitious SS officer is told to remove from the roof of Prague’s concert hall the statue of the Jew Mendelssohn – but the statues are not labeled and he doesn’t know which one is Mendelssohn. Remembering his course on “racial science,” he tells his men to pull down the statue with the biggest nose. It is only when the statue begins to topple that he recognizes it as a representation of Richard Wagner. Fortunately, he manages to save the statue before it falls. But how is he to identify the right statue. He sends to the ghetto for a “learned” man. What they send is a Talmudic scholar. He knows the Talmud, but knows nothing about music. He is severely punished for not being able to help. As the story progresses, you realize that the novel is about the plight of the Jews in Prague as they become entangled in Hitler’s “final solution.” Cruelty and sadism on the part of the Nazis becomes more and more intense. They eventually set up the concentration camp outside of Prague, Terezin. This is now a tourist stop for visitors to Prague – although we chose not to go. It was a way-station on the way to the East for Jews – the killing camps of Poland. Several characters are chronicled throughout the book, but none of them has any real hope of survival. This is an intense and extremely well-done description of mentality of the Germans and the plight of the Jews. Highly recommended.
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