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Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  2,263 ratings  ·  162 reviews
Based on seventy hours of interviews with Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka (the largest of the Nazi extermination camps), Sereny's book bares the soul of a man who continually found ways to rationalize his role in Hitler's final solution.
Paperback, 400 pages
Published January 12th 1983 by Vintage (first published 1974)
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Jen Mills I'm not sure. Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience is Gitta Sereny's biography/exploration of Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, b…moreI'm not sure. Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience is Gitta Sereny's biography/exploration of Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, based on interviews with him and his family. Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder might be an earlier edition, because in the book Sereny does describe Stangl's experience in the T4 gassings/ "euthanasia" of disabled people before he was appointed to Treblinka. I'm not an expert, but the impression I got from reading Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience was that a lot of the staff who were involved in the so-called mercy killings of disabled people were transferred to work on the "Final Solution."(less)

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Paul Bryant
Oct 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I don't want to keep writing obituaries, but I have to say something here. Gitta Sereny died this week at the age of 91, she was another hero of mine. She was an intellectually tough woman who spent a good part of her long life staring evil right in the eyes - take a look at her main books :

Into That Darkness - an account of the life of Fritz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka, who escaped after the war and was arrested in Brazil in 1967, and became the only commandant of a death camp ever to have
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I didn't realize there were 4 "extermination" camps set up solely for murder, Chelmno, Belsec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. All of them in Poland and all of which lasted for under 2 years and then were shut down when their work was complete. Only 87 people survived the four, no children. The killing process also included torture before their speedy deaths, I had heard or seen in movies or videos all of the indignities they were subjected to, but I hadn't known of the internal searches for hidden valu ...more
Violet wells
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the definition of a worthy book about the Holocaust is that it leaves you asking more questions than it answers. That, ultimately, it is unsatisfactory. Satisfaction, after all, allows one to move on.

The author of Into the Darkness conducts a series of interviews with Franz Stangl, the kommandant of Treblinka and various people who knew him, including one Jewish man who survived the death camp. Before the Anschluss Stangl was a policeman in Austria. When the Germans arrived he was on a
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: holocaust
How do you examine the conscience of an ordinary man who doesn't really want to be examined? For beneath the Austrian courtesies Franz Stangl suffers from a wir haben's nicht gewusst type of selective amnesia, until he dies of heart failure a few days after Sereny makes her farewell. You cast the net wider, over his wife in Brazil and smaller fish such as former camp guards, either pensioned off into respectable anonymity or presently incarcerated.

Together with a handful of former inmates this
This is one of the most incredible Holocaust books I have come across to date. It is about so much more than author Gitta Sereny's conversations with Franz Stangl ( Commandant of Treblinka ). These conversations (conducted while Stangl was in Düsseldorf prison) give us a narrative around which Sereny integrates her exceptional research, outside interviews and experiences. Sereny manages to be both our guide and an appropriately impartial observer of the events described (and is open in ...more
Richard Burger
Feb 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
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) ...more
Mikey B.
These interviews by Gitta Sereny with Franz Stangl took place in April and June of 1971. She spoke with him for some 70 hours. Franz Stangl was the commandant of two Nazi death camps – Sobibor, and then Treblinka. To be explicit in these camps thousands of mostly Jewish people (man, women and their children) would arrive by train from across Europe, ordered to undress, herded into a gas chamber, and then their bodies burnt in a pit.

The purpose of Gitta Sereny was to investigate, to probe into th
Aug 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
When confronted with the idea of the Holocaust, I find the scope of the atrocities perpetrated against Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals,and others whom the Reich considered as "undesirables" is inconceivable. At Treblinka, where Fritz Stangl was Kommandant, one million and two hundred thousand people were put to death. Once the trains reached the pretty little fake railway station, with its flower-filled window boxes and faux clock tower, the passengers in the cattle cars had approximately one hour to ...more
For a swedish review, look further down!

This is about a man who became a monster. A wife that refused to acknowledge the truth. About certain people that became victims. Others who lost their loved ones. And those who became determined to escape and to spread the truth. This story is terrible as well as incredibly fascinating. Gitta Sereny was a truly magnificent author that revealed man's inner core. The soul.

I felt so sick when reading this book that I sometimes had to put it away for a while.
Ruby Tuesday
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: holocaust-wwii
I've read countless books about the Holocaust and recently I started to question what my fascination is with the subject. I came to the conclusion that it's the psychology of what leads a country towards genocide and the mentality that enables individuals to carry out such terrible crimes against humanity. Whilst undoubtedly some individuals were sadistic what is apparent in so many books that I've read is how un extraordinary most of the perpetrators were, it's this aspect that I find the most ...more
Jennifer Mencarini
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It is really difficult to give this book five stars because its content is so repugnant and disturbing. A quote from a review by Elie Wiesel on the rear cover perfectly sums it up - "Most often one is sick to one's soul. Yes, that is the word that is needed ... one is gripped by a profound existential nausea." And I did feel sick to my stomach while reading much of this book - but it is important precisely because it serves as a most necessary reminder that each and every one of us is capable of ...more
John Woltjer
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book reminded me of Hannah Ahrendt's phrase about "the banality of evil." it is chilling to read the story of a man, in normal times just like any other average man, whose life leads him inexorably and incrementally into a situation in service of pure evil. it is also an example of how individuals can train their vision to ignore horrific events at their doorstep while practicing the little niceties and carrying out the routine tasks of a normal day. It is not hard to understand how this ca ...more
Steven Waters
Jun 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
After reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, I got into a bit of a WWII reading binge. First I read, Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas and then I launched into The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. I read Into That Darkness contemporaneously with Shirer's book. I don't doubt that my reading of this book was colored by these other Summer readings.

Into That Darkness is written by Gitta Sereny who interviewed Franz Stangl (the commandant of Treblinka) while he was in prison. Stangl had
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In interviewing Franz Stangl, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the co-responsibility in the murder of 900,000 people while Kommandent of the Treblinka death camp, Gitta Sereny asked him about his signing a paper certifying that he was prepared to give up his religion. The paper signified that he was a believer in God but agreed to break his affiliation tho the (Catholic) Church. Stangl acknowledged that he was not a 'regular' church goer but always went on Easter and Christmas. He said ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Gitta Sereny, who recently died, was a writer who did extensive interviews with former Nazi officials. This is her classic account of the Commandant of the death camp Treblinka, Franz Stangl, who oversaw nearly a million deaths. Sereny wins his trust, and the portrait is fascinating. Not particularly anti-Semitic, not the cruelest SS officer around, the Austrian Stangl finds himself through sheer ambition and cowardice rising through the ranks, first in the Euthanasia program “T4”, then coordina ...more
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
If you have ever asked yourself "How did the people of Germany allow the holocaust to happen," this book explains a lot. I learned that many of the perpetrators like Stengl, the subject of this book, were average citizens who did not appear to be born with "devil horns." But the most enlightening lesson I gained from reading this is that anyone could find themselves in these circumstances and we will never know how we would react until we do find ourselves in such circumstances. And that violenc ...more
M.J. Johnson
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The facts about what the Nazis did, all of which can be obtained elsewhere, are not what makes reading this book so essential, nor is it some kind of horrific fascination in learning of the psychological profile of a man who oversaw the deaths of somewhere between 750,000 and 1,200,000 almost exclusively Jewish people (chilling when you think the estimated death toll - horrific whichever number is correct - might be out by nearly half a million!). Sereny doesn’t seem to be solely interested in S ...more
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Franz Stangl was commandant at the Treblinka extermination camp during world war 2 and during his tenure he oversaw the murder of over 700,000 people. After the war, Stangl escaped justice for over a decade, though he made little effort to hide himself; he settled in Brazil with his family and never took an assumed name.

When Stangl was finally caught and brought to trial, he accepted no guilt, stubbornly insisting that he was just a man who had done his duty. The court convicted Stangl of war cr
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I sat in the bathtub for a good twenty minutes after I finished this just thinking. It's limited in scope - conversations with Stangl, the Kommandant of Treblinka, after his capture and shortly before his death - but nevertheless manages to go wide as well as deep. This is both a wonderful and terrible mediation on humanity, the slippage that leads from normality to atrocity, the hard truths and willing self-delusions of those participants.

I read Goldensohn's Nuremberg interviews and felt sicker
Patrick Belair
This was a very interesting look at Franz Stangl,Interviewed when serving life sentence for war crimes.Many think that 800.000 thousand to 1.2 million dead should have been death for him self ( I do not believe that Germany has the death sentence)Moving along it was interesting to read interviews with him and also Frau Stangl,about this time,Including Vatican involvement, and the fact that he never was hiding always in open .for all to see and find.A very complex man and very good book,consideri ...more
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
It seems like everytime you turn around there is another book out about the Holocaust. Not that this is necessarily bad, but after a while you run into the fatigue syndrome. So I try to cull the number of books that I read on the subject.

This one I could not turn away. It's not "the banality of evil," it's not "evil incarnate," it's the life of a man who knew he was guilty but managed to persuade himself he was not.

Franz Stangl was the commandant of Treblinka, one of the four "extermination" cam
Tejas Janet
Oct 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Gitta Sereny's book is a thoughtful, scrupulously researched look into the heart of darkness, providing a psychological portrait of Franz Stangl, a man responsible for managing the business of running various of Hitler's death "camps," as the Nazis perversely called their death factories, where the business of killing on a massive scale was carried out routinely with deliberate, carefully designed intent.

I struggled throughout with what time of day to read this material. Like better served over
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Still very powerful
Mark Lisac
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary and shattering book — a study of Franz Stangl, commandant of the Nazis' Treblinka death camp, and inevitably a storehouse of glimpses of life and death, and of shocking callousness and surprising bravery inside that camp.
Sereny took criticism in some early reviews for getting too close to some of her subjects. Perhaps or perhaps not. A more on-point observation is probably that she was prone to making psychological assessments that may have been accurate in some cases and inaccu
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction, wwii
A remarkable and chilling deep dive into the life and relationships of a seemingly ordinary man who nevertheless lived a life both monstrous and banal. It explores the lies we tell others and more importantly the lies we tell ourselves.
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-non-fiction
I have read a significant number of books on the Holocaust. This was the first book I have read that explored what those who actually ran the Concentration Camps themselves thought during World War II. Into That Darkness is based on over 70 hours of interviews between the author and Franz Stangl - Commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps that combined to kill over 1,000,000 people, primarily Jews from Poland and Eastern Europe.

I added this book to my to-read list about a year ago but
Stacey PL
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: readagain
this is NOT a light or quick read. but this is the true story of Franz Stangl - commandant of one of the Nazi extermination camps during the Holocaust. it is based on extensive interviews with Franz, his family, "coworkers", survivors and those who guarded him during his own time in prison.

this provides insight into how one man changed/evolved from a "normal" man to a man responsible for the mass murdering of hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people. it is one man's descent down the slippery
Oct 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written and humane book, as much about Ms Sereny's reaction to meeting a man capable of such hideous crimes. It is a testement to Ms Sereny's humanity that she could meet a man (whose idea of humane treatment was to provide the women standing in line, going to their death with a single bcket to use when their terror overcame the control of their bowels) and still manage to find a human beneath this.

It is an utterly horrific book, but one which reminds us of how easily one can be se
Jun 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I've read it ages ago but it still qualifies as one of the most fascinating books I've ever read.

Gitta Sereney writes about the conversations she had with Franz Stangl, commander of the extermination camp Treblinka, in the seventies when he was in prison in Duesseldorf, Germany.

Reading this book you can get close to understanding what went on in the mind of a mass murderer. The ability of the human psyche to twist facts and distort the truth in order to carry on with life is terrifying.

I admire
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the Holocaust. It is a unique look into the life and mind of one of the leaders of a Nazi death camp. Sereny makes the reader question not only the morality of the man interviewed, but also one's own sense of right and wrong. There is absolutely no doubt that the Holocaust was one of the most horrific and brutal events in our history, but this book takes a look at the steps that lead a seemingly normal man to become a mass murderer...a ...more
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2015: The Year of...: Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny 1 11 Jan 12, 2015 03:47AM  

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Gitta Sereny was an Austrian born journalist, biographer and historian. She passed away in England aged 91, following a long illness.

Gitta attributed her fascination with evil to her own experiences of Nazism as a child of central Europe in the early 20th century. Hers was not a happy childhood. She was born in Vienna, the daughter of a beautiful Austrian actress, whom she later described as "wit

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“This may appear to be a marginal matter, but I believe it to be peculiarly significant in representing a profoundly mistaken emphasis accepted – perhaps of necessity – by the courts, and also by the public and by the individuals involved: a concept whereby responsibility has been limited to momentary and often isolated actions, and to a few individuals. It is, I think, because of this universal acceptance of a false concept of responsibility that Stangl himself (until just before he died), his family and – in a wider but equally, if not even more, important sense – countless other people in Germany and outside it, have felt for years that what is decisive in law, and therefore in the whole conduct of human affairs, is what a man does on isolated occasions rather than what he is.” 4 likes
“But what is important is that it is hard to see in this instance what they have to gain by denying that they had been “schooled” for murder at the euthanasia institutes, if that in fact was what happened. They would surely appear in a slightly less terrible light if they could claim that they had been scientifically conditioned – brainwashed – to death-camp work, rather than assigned to it because their natures seemed particularly suited to such activity.” 4 likes
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