Saturday, June 19, 2010

Europa, Europa!

by Solomon Perel

The first person account of a Jewish teenager who survived the Holocaust. Rather atypically, his experience involved being taken for an ethnic German and being enrolled in the Hitler Youth, living through most of the war in material comfort at the heart of Germany, but with the ongoing fear that one slip or unlucky encounter could get him killed. The story becomes valuable not as a study of what happened to Jewish communities generally, but how this bizare individual case allows an unique reflection on German society, racism and militarism.

There are a lot of interesting components in the story. One of the most prominent is the way that Solly lives in the role of an elite Aryan, how he’s taken to be the perfect model of racial superioirty, how he has to mimick the political views of those around him. There’s one interlude of a couple chapters where he encounters a young woman, they fall in love, he thinks of her passionately. Then events move on with his life and he stops focusing on her much at all. It’s an interesting moment largely because of how uninteresting it is, how the romance takes on an utterly conventional format of teenage overwrought romance. Even in an utterly surreal environment of racial definition and totalitarian menace, the level of boy-girl romance played out in a fairly predictible manner. It’s indication of a level outside of politics in the daily life, or rather a whole different form of politics connected to different facets, and one where Solly had certain basic advantages.

It’s a little awkward to bring it up for a personal account, particularly one relating to such personal trauma, but the book is badly written. Melodramatic language, excessive foreshadowing, redundancy and a type of flowery broad claims that doesn’t effectively convey the processs of the historical tension. What occurred in Perel’s life if interesting and worthwile to study, but is actual manner of expressing it is frequently awkward. The account was written in the eighties, and while the decades of historical remove are effective at some points--like reflecting on his encounters with some German classmates and friends after the war--in the moment to moment proccess of the narrative it makes for a somewhat stilted layout.

Better than: Thirty Five Years in Russia by George Hume
Worse than: A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous

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