Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interval Eleven - Some Interesting Literature

AS WE HAVE SEEN,  the week between each episode  of the play is devoted to accounts of the Holocaust, its origin, who instigated it, stories of survivors, and whatever else is relevant to the play and remembrance of the Holocaust. One of these accounts tells  of a short story with the title Address Unknown. This interval Eleven comprises a repeat of Interval Three, which told of existence of this  story—a  story that first  appeared in 1938—a story which has never been out of print, and which has sold millions of copies.   It is a story that should be in every library.
a              In Compelling words,  Address Unknown  alerted  the American people to the growing danger to the Jewish population of German-controlled Europe by the Nazi regime. The author  is Kathrine Kressman Taylor (1903-1996).

Kathrine Kressman Taylor

Address Unknown is credited with exposing, early on, the dangers of Nazism to the American public, and doing it well before the advent of the U.S. into the Second World War; the liberation of the concentration camps (and thereby the revelation of the full horror of the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jews in the German-controlled territories); and even before the thoroughly destructive pogrom known as Kristellnacht on the evening of 9-10 November 1938.

Taylor describes the motivation for the story in the Afterword (in the Simon &Schuster 2001 edition):

              A short time before the war, some cultivated, intellectual, warmhearted German friends of mine returned to Germany after living in the United States. In a very short time they turned into sworn Nazis. They refused to listen to the slightest criticism about Hitler. During a return visit to California, they met an old, dear friend of theirs on the street who had been very close to them and who was a Jew. They did not speak to him. They turned their backs on him when he held his hands out to embrace them. How can such a thing happen? I wondered. What changed their hearts so? What steps brought them to such cruelty? …. I began researching Hitler and reading his speeches and the writings of his advisors. What I discovered was terrifying. What worried me most was that no one in America was aware of what was happening in Germany and they also did not care. … But some students who had returned from studying in Germany told the truth about the Nazi atrocities. When their fraternity brothers though it would be funny to send them letters making fun of Hitler, they wrote back and said, “Stop it. We’re in danger. These people don’t fool around. You could murder one of these Nazis by writing letters to him.”

Address Unknown is an epistolary short story involving correspondence between a Jewish art dealer in San Francisco, Max Eisenstein, and his friend and business partner Martin Schulse, who only recently moved back to his native Germany with his wife and children. The letters were exchanged between 1932 and 1934. Bear in mind that Hitler came to power in 1933.

As we have seen in our discussion of Good (see Interval Two), again we have an educated man (Martin) drawn into the all-pervasive Nazi Party on the basis that it would be good for his standing, and that of his family. His wife becomes the toast of local society, and his son a proud member of the Hitler Youth League. Max, however, is disturbed by what he hears from acquaintances coming out of Germany, and of the treatment of Jews, even so early on in Hitler’s reign. This is borne out by the fact that Martin eventually asks Max to stop writing him as he cannot be seen to be corresponding with a Jew.

What transpires further is a tragic, moving story, told briefly but with great power, of betrayal and revenge. I would not deny you the pleasure (if you can call it so) of reading this story by giving anymore of the plot away. I would recommend this to everyone to read – it being short it takes no more than an hour at most, but its brevity belies its power.
Alistair Cooke said that Adolph Hitler was one of the greatest orators that he had ever heard. By his oratory, Hitler convinced the people of Germany to follow the horrible path he had laid out for them. It could happen in any society, no matter how seemingly stable, where an orator can appear and pervert that society to his desires. In his classic book It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis described how it can happen here in this America, and in a form as perverted and vicious as what happened in Nazi Germany. So let us—
                                 BEWARE the ORATOR!

If you wish to buy the Sinclair Lewis book, go first to your local bookseller, and failing that, click on  It Can’t Happen Here. You can also find Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s book readily available on Amazon in the US and the UK, and it is also available for Kindle. It has been translated into many, many languages and continues to be considered a classic piece of fiction to this day. 

AND NOW, an exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum—a box car of the type used to transport millions of Jews, Gypsies, and other victims to concentration camps such as Auschwitz, and in this example, the death camp Sobibor. The camps themselves were a living hell (and a dying hell) and the trip to them similarly equally hellish. The Old Testament depictions of Hell with its devils with pitchforks and the eternal fires is quite harrowing, but those who experienced the Holocaust first hand might say that they might have preferred the traditional Hell, compared to what they experienced. (It must have sickened the Evil One Himself!)

A railcar used for transportation of Jews to the
extermination camp Sobibor. The high box at the end
housed soldiers who shot any who tried to escape.
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
On permanent exhibit at the Museum.

When in Washington, Be sure to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum!  You can also  visit online. It is extremely well worth a visit either way, for it is superb in its presentation. It is also a gold mine of information about the Holocaust, and organized for any search you may wish to make. Many have found members of their families once thought dead, but found to be alive through the archives of the Museum.

Next week, on to Episode Twelve, which bears the title An Evening of Bombs. The distant sounds of bombing have been heard during the last two episodes, and now the bombs will  arrive. What will happen to the house of Herr Wachter, with its precious cargo of Jewish refugees, including little Genia?

The following two episodes will tell the story. 

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