Readers of earlier posts on the blog (and some of my students!) will know that I urge people to read the “quality” press in order to follow the news and also to get book (and other) reviews. Two reviews in Saturday’s Guardian caught my attention this weekend – and then a piece in the in the Sunday Times. All of this took on a particular significance as Sunday was Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The first review, a full-page piece by the Helen Fawcett Professor of History at UC Berkeley, Thomas W. Laqueur, is of Otto Dov Kulka’s Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death: Reflections on Memory and Imagination. Kulka was a survivor of Auschwitz and his book combines scholarly analysis of the Holocaust with a particular emphasis on Theresienstadt and the attempt by the Nazis to present a humane image of the camps to the International Red Cross with personal memories and reflections – and his own chance survival. Once teh Red Cross had been, the inhabitants of the family camp were murdered. Laqueur calls the book “the product of a master historian”, a reminder of the necessity as Primo Levi said to bear witness to the horrific events of the Nazi years.
On the facing page there is Ian Thomson’s review of Sönke Neitzel and Harald Wetzer’s Soldaten: On fighting, Killing and Dying. This book is based on secret recordings of SS and Wermacht prisoners-of-war in a camp in Trent Park, Cockfosters. The recordings are clearly horrific in what they reveal about the complicity of ordinary German soldiers in the Holocaust – perhaps like Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Prisoners spoke of killing Jews as “fun”, and one officer recalled the after-dinner execution of Polish Jews that took the form of a pheasant shoot. Like Kulka’s book, this one too offers “an essential documentary record.”
Having read these reviews and been reminded of the horror of the Holocaust, I was sad – and disturbed – to see the Sunday Times Magazine give space to an “exposé” of the Holocaust denier David Irving. I don’t think we need reminding of the perverse position this so-called historian takes and I would much rather he not be given publicity. Hopefully, the readers of the article will recognize that Irving’s position as a serious historian has been discredited – if they are in any doubt, they might read both books mentioned in the reviews above.