How does one write a book that is not preachy, didactic or prejudiced when one writes about the sensitive topic of WWII and Nazi Germany?
Saul Friedlander has succeeded brilliantly. His book goes through documents not seen before and includes diaries, letters and memoirs of those who perished (and some who survived) but wrote about what was happening in real time in their countries, including Germany, Holland, and other parts of Europe. He also includes letters from Nazis, including a professor of Medicine at the University of Munster and an SS Hauptsturmfuhrer a Dr. Johann Paul Kremer, about his experiences at Auschwitz, and how the Sonderkommando inmates pushed themselves to participate in these operations, "because special provisions are passed out, including a fifth of liquor, 5 cigarettes, 100 grams of baloney, and bread....6 september. Today, Sunday, excellent lunch: tomato soup, one-half chicken with potatoes and redcabbage (20 grams fat). Sweets and fantastic vanilla ice cream...Evening at 8 o'clock outside again for a Sonderaktion."
Why the obsession with food, you might think? It turns out that this "doctor" was also researching in Auschwitz on the medical aspects of starvation. "His specimens would be put on a dissection table, interrogated about their weight loss, then killed and dissected. The effects of stavation could then be studied at leisure."
The historical evidence in the book is almost too much to bear, showing the brutality of the Nazis and their collaborators throughout Europe; how no one would take the Jews if they could, even when they knew what was happening to them; and how many countries, including the U.S. did little or nothing to help those innocent people, including the American Jewish community and the Church.
If you want to learn the real truth about the war, this is the book. While I never enjoyed history books, this powerful and haunting book reads like a novel and I couldn't put it down, even though it's about 650 pages long.
As a communications professional, I marveled at how the Germans could buy the Himmler Propaganda Machine that manipulated the masses to hate the Jews so much that they would agree to destroy them and rid Europe of all of them.
How the machine convinced Germans that they could still become great again if they followed the maniac Hitler's twisted emotional and murderous obsessions is amazing. Among 20th century leaders, Hitler had the unbridled enthusiasm and devotion of millions of countrymen "in one of the most advanced and powerful nations on earth." Hitler's charisma unleashed the terror against the Jewish population of Europe only because of the complicity and adoration of his followers.
I am still haunted at the words of a Hungarian Jewish poet Mikos Radnoti whose last poem describes how he too will be killed like the violinist who tried to get up and continue to march when the SS told them to lie on the ground and opened fire.
The Nazi said, "He is still jumping up!" and shot him.
In his poem, he writes,
I fell beside him and his corpse turned over,
tight already as a snapping string.
Shot in the neck. "And that's how you'll end too,"
I whispered to myself; "lie still; no moving.
Now patience flowers into death." Then I could hear
"Der Springt noch auf," above, and very near.
Blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear.
About a month later he was murdered by his guards.
Read this book. You'll never forget it.