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A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust [Paperback]

Mary Fulbrook
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Sep 2013
The Silesian town of Bedzin lies a mere twenty-five miles from Auschwitz; through the linked ghettos of Bedzin and its neighbouring town, some 85,000 Jews passed on their way to slave labour or the gas chambers.

The principal civilian administrator of Bedzin, Udo Klausa, was a happily married family man. He was also responsible for implementing Nazi policies towards the Jews in his area - inhumane processes that were the precursors of genocide. Yet he later claimed, like so many other Germans after the war, that he had 'known nothing about it'; and that he had personally tried to save a Jew before he himself managed to leave for military service. A Small Town Near Auschwitz re-creates Udo Klausa's story. Using a wealth of personal letters, memoirs, testimonies, interviews and other sources, Mary Fulbrook pieces together his role in the unfolding stigmatization and degradation of the Jews under his authoritiy, as well as the heroic attempts at resistance on the part of some of his victims. She also gives us a fascinating insight into the inner conflicts of a Nazi functionary who, throughout, considered himself a 'decent' man. And she explores the conflicting memories and evasions of his life after the war.

But the book is much more than a portrayal of an individual man. Udo Klausa's case is so important because it is in many ways so typical. Behind Klausa's story is the larger story of how countless local functionaries across the Third Reich facilitated the murderous plans of a relatively small number among the Nazi elite - and of how those plans could never have been realized, on the same scale, without the diligent cooperation of these generally very ordinary administrators. As Fulbrook shows, men like Klausa 'knew' and yet mostly suppressed this knowledge, performing their day jobs without apparent recognition of their own role in the system, or any sense of personal wrongdoing or remorse - either before or after 1945.

This account is no o

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (15 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199679258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199679256
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 13.6 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 265,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"Not limited to the perspective of the perpetrators and bystanders, the book illuminates the destiny of the 85,000 Jews who went through the ghettos of the county, thus pioneering an integrative history of the Holocaust. Summing Up: Highly recommended." --CHOICE

About the Author

Mary Fulbrook is Professor of German History at University College London. She has written widely on modern German history, including A Concise History of Germany; A History of Germany 1918-2000: The Divided Nation; German National Identity after the Holocaust; Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR; and The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker. Her most recent book is Dissonant Lives: Generations and Violence through the German Dictatorships. A fellow of the British Academy, she is former Chair of the German History Society and a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Foundation for the former Concentration Camps at Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By Roman Clodia TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
This is a subtle, devastatingly honest and very humane book that takes an oblique look at the Holocaust - not so much the perpetrators of genocide, but the thousands of `facilitators', civilian administrators, who were complicit with Nazi ideology while giving themselves the psychological get-out clause that they were 'decent' people, that they didn't know the full story of what was happening and so were never guilty of mass murder.

Fulbrook focuses on Udo Klausa, the chief administrator of Bedzin, a small town twenty-five miles from Auschwitz, and explores the way in which he strives in his memoirs to distance himself from the Final Solution, even while being responsible for the rounding up, ghettoization, and transportation of all the Jews from his town.

The book is given an added weight since the author knew Klausa who was married to her godmother. Fulbrook isn't so concerned with pointing the finger (though she can't help but make moral judgements) but with understanding the psychological processes, the preconditions which allowed the Holocaust to happen, and it's this which makes the book so important, such a living exploration of things which matter today.

This is, inevitably, a disturbing, distressing book and one which it's impossible to read without getting choked up and emotional. But despite the author's own emotions (which do, rightly, break through into the text), this is essentially a cool and rational exploration of the kind of myths which allowed `ordinary, decent' Germans to separate themselves from the `real Nazis'.

As a professional academic historian, Fulbrook is almost apologetic for allowing her own moral and ethical judgements to have space in this book but that's precisely what makes this so powerful.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Willing Killers 20 Oct 2012
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
I agree with the gist of the previous reviews. This is a fine book that should be read by anyone wishing to understand how ordinary Germans willingly helped or by their inaction contributed to the extermination of Jews and other groups.

My only caveat is that the involvement of ordinary Germans in the deliberate genocide of Jews (for genocide it was) has been well documented for decades. The superb books by, for example, Ian Kershaw, Michael Burleigh, Mary Felbrook, Robert Gellately and Max Hastings have graphically detailed the involvement of 'good' Germans.

The attempts after 1945 by many Germans to deny knowing anything about the extermination camps were always going to be revealed as lies. If true, who drove the trains full of victims for the gas chambers, who were the bureaucrats who did the paper work, who took part in reserve police battalions like the notorious 101, some 500 policemen of which slaughtered men, women, children and babies while laughing and drinking? We might also ask who were the doctors that murdered thousands from 1939 as part of the infamous T-4 Euthanasia unit? Who manufactured and transported the gas for the chambers of death? The answer to these and many other questions is ordinary Germans, men and women. Thousands more turned a blind eye to murder. For all too many Germans, Hitler's policies provided the long awaited opportunity to attack Jews, to confiscate their property and expropriate their businesses.

The truth is that German society as a whole did not oppose the Nazi's vicious anti-Jewish policies. At best there was passive complicity, policies were never questioned save by a very few. Many,on the other hand, from 1933 onwards expressed glee in witnessing Jewish degradation.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is history written for all 29 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I heard the author talk about this book, and ( surely, as the publishers must hope and plan) bought it. Not the usual subject matter for reading over the Christmas break, but I was wholly absorbed and horrified at the same time, literally could not consider reading anything else until I finished it. This book provides such clear and convincing arguments about how the Holocaust came about. Ordinary German townspeople in a small town and their Polish and their Jewish neighbours being displaced, then so many 'deported' . The tragedy is brought to life by such clear writing about death.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful 6 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
How much did the average German know about what occurred during the Holocaust as it was happening? How much of what they said after the war was truth and how much a fiction to enable them to live their life or avoid imprisonment? That is the question that the author of this book sets our to answer by exploring the lives of Udo Klausa and his and his wife, Alexandra. The couple lived in a town near the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, a town that had a Jewish population, one of whom they employed as a gardener.

A book like this is important because of what it shows. The author is able to showcase exactly what an ordinary administrator living in the Reich during the war would have known, using original documents and other evidence from the time. It also shows in parallel the experiences of both the oppressor and the victim. This is important because to disregard one half of the equation, the Nazis, gives and incomplete picture.

What Fulbrook has done well is to present a complete general picture of not only how something happened but what the effects of the event were on everyone involved. The book isn't easy reading for Fulbrook doesn't pull any punches, but it is a must read because of the picture that is given. It promotes discussion and adds levels of understanding. Any student of World War II or history should read this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A very hard read!
How did the Final Solution really operate and function beneath the main characters (Himmler, Heydrich and Eichmann) about whom several books have been written alongside the even... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Siriam
5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective for me
I have read a fair amount on the Nazi concentration camps so I was not sure how different this might be. Read more
Published 7 months ago by J. R. Atkinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Complicity
How could ordinary Germans like Udo Klausa, a happily married family man and Bedzin administrator,get drawn into the horrors of the Nazi holocaust? Read more
Published 7 months ago by J. H. Bretts
4.0 out of 5 stars good but
the angle that this book is taken from is an interesting one. the facilitators behind teh scenes to the holocaust are never really focused on in any depth so its intersting to see... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mr. Pj Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
There were many Germans who indeed were innocent and were totally oblivious of what went on in parts of Europe that Germany occupied. Read more
Published 7 months ago by P. Waller
5.0 out of 5 stars "Ordinary" people and the Holocaust.
My first visit to Auschwitz, Birkenau and the surrounding area in Poland will live with me forever. I recall passing a sign for Oświęcim as I approached what appeared to be an... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M. D Roberts
4.0 out of 5 stars The Good Germans?
There has long been the belief in The Good Germans, who knew nothing of the atrocities on their doorsteps, and this fascinating book, whilst not putting that myth to rest, shows... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Graeme Stewart
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable Reading
How did a small town in Poland contribute to the Holocaust? The history of Bedzin and its inhabitants between 1939 and 1945, and long afterwards is a fascinating study on self... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Donald Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars LIFE OF A LANDRAT
Nothing in this book ought to surprise anyone. It is a case-study of the actions and attitudes of a German functionary under the Third Reich. Read more
Published 8 months ago by DAVID BRYSON
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account
Well worth reading if only to give one a sense of the atrocious time. I would certainly hope that a lot of people will read it.
Published 19 months ago by R. J. Jones
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