Sunday, September 25, 2011

Books #32 and #33

Very reminiscent of Octavia Butler's Kindred, The Devil's Arithmetic sends a modern-day Jewish girl back a half-century to a shtetl during WW2. Hannah is bored by her family's insistence on ritual. She's tired of hearing about death and destruction. She wants to go to the mall with her friends, to assimilate, to focus on sameness and not difference in America.

But when she opens the door for Elijah Hannah finds herself experiencing first-hand what her antecedents endured.

I like this text a great deal, and will keep it aside for kids I think might appreciate its portrayal of unimaginable suffering and its portrait of Jewish culture and religion.

"I never killed a prisoner, nor mistreated one. And I did not tolerate it when my subordinates did so."

It's statements like these which make Hoess's autobiography so interesting. He'll describe how carefully he followed Himmler's decrees about the Final Solution, how the camp at Auschwitz was made into a death factory, and then he'll say that he did not kill or mistreat anyone. Astonishing.

Primo Levi's intro prepares you for how dishonest and abominable Hoess is in these pages; reading him is not pleasant. He is not a terribly bright or imaginative man, though he had substantial gifts as a functionary. His "insights" into the suffering of prisoners are laughable given what he accomplished. His claim to have been disturbed by the treatment of prisoners under his own care are the obvious squirmings of a thug caught and exposed. "I was in jail, so I know what it was like for them," he whines. "I had a family from whom I was separated by my duties, so I know true suffering."

He claims at the end to have wished for a soldier's death instead of his "shameful" coming execution. What about those you snuffed out, Commandant? What death did they wish for? He never attempts to distance himself from Nazism or antisemitism. He held his beliefs to the end, despite his attempts at self-justification. Sickening, but definitely worth reading.

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