A PAST IN HIDING

Mark Rosenman is the author. He labels this a memoir which is usually written by the person[Marianne Strauss] involved in the memories.

In the Introduction the author writes,

“It became clear that Marianne had subtly changed some incidences, forgotten others, or “appropriated” memories that…belonged to other people.

Sometimes, the discrepancies were not factual errors at all…[From the underground diary] the picture that emerged…of what illegal life was like, and above all of what the young woman was like who had lived that life, was very different from the picture she had painted for me. Marianne had evidently lost sight of the person she had once been.”(page 11)

This is always true. As human beings age, they disregard and diminish traits and behaviors which once controlled their actions and thoughts.

The book supposedly is about Marianne Strauss, daughter of a Jewish family from Essen, Germany. Unlike other members of her family murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, this 20 year-old Jewish woman survived by going underground for two years. Of the 420 pages of text only 90 concern life underground or people she met there. (page 250-340)

The author interviewed Marianne when she was 66 years old and after her death seven years later  he learned her story was not complete. Hence the quote above. The mistake the author makes is presenting an oral history. He relies on Marianne’s version, and next quotes from other interviewees. The feel of the book is a debating society, quibbling over irrelevant facts: what the middle school was like.

The problem with additional sources is they come from other elderly persons. The author interviewed Marianne because she was 66 and frail, but it seems that most of the research for the book was done after that interview. He later learned things and needed clarifications and had additional questions.

Throughout the book are sentences, so obvious, they are concessionary and cliched. They don’t belong: “For Marianne’s parents, life in 1942 must have been one long miserable wait under steadily worsening conditions.” (page 219) Miserable! Jews living in Nazi Germany had more than misery. In his diary Victor Klemperer tells of the petty steps the Nazis officialdom took to torment him: Taking the pet cat; during searches stealing food, money and clothes from their living space. These actions go far beyond misery, especially for the educated victims who know most Nazis never got past the sixth grade and had all the compassion and understanding of baboons.

One way this oral history reveals itself and weaknesses is it is written by subject. Years bounce around, sometimes in the same paragraph; persons come and go; imprudently the author puts the reader in 1942 and in the next paragraph he injects himself: “In the summer of 1997 I gained an unexpected insight into Marianne’s effect on this group…” (222). Sources go from diaries to fax transmissions.

About halfway through the book the author tells about the Gestapo evacuation of the Strauss family and Marianne’s escape. The author returns to the debating sources and foolishly, irrelevantly concludes, “…it seems the Gestato story was true – and on this point Marianne’s account was inaccurate.” (p. 258)

The author’s attempted explanation at the end of the book about Marianne’s not remembering things just as they happened is folly. Individuals living normal lives don’t remember what they ate for lunch on any day, or on which day two weeks ago they went to the dentist. Anyone who investigates anything – politics, government, journalists, spies, attorneys – knows that human memory and eye witness accounts are fallible, sometimes completely unreliable, although the event occurred a half hour before. It is nonsense to expect a 66 year old woman to remember everything that happened to her 45 years before without her referring to her own papers or walking the arena.

However, this text tells of the German underground (incompletely) which is an important subject. Most Germans lost their heads, manically worshipping human idols and following the simplest, cliched ideas to lead them to Valhalla. There was a sliver of people in Germany who defied that mindset, disparaged that ignorance and obscurantism and kept their humanity. They helped persons like Marianne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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