Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 by David Cesarani – review

[from The Guardian]

3008Jan Karski, a courier for the Polish underground, was among the first to reach London and Washington after observing the mass killing of Polish Jews. In an interview for Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film Shoah, Karski, still astonished after so many years, gets to his feet as he recalls the reaction of Felix Frankfurter, Franklin Roosevelt’s confidant. “I don’t believe you,” he recalls Frankfurter saying. “I know you are not a liar, but I don’t believe you.”

Similar sentiments will occur to the half-attentive reader throughout almost every page of David Cesarani’s account of the Final Solution. How many Jews were killed? How were they killed? Did the Hitler project really imply the extermination of every single Jew in Europe? And what sort of person could be relied on to kill one human being after another – women and children, the old, the young – day after blood-drenched day?

Cesarani’s justification for another book about the Holocaust is that a generation of new research has failed to find its way into public consciousness. “The nomenclature itself is increasingly self-defeating,” he begins. Terms such as “the Holocaust” or “Shoah”, even “genocide”, in the legitimate course of memorialising Jewish sufferings, have walled off mass killings from the events surrounding them. To that end Cesarani treats the subject in a stripped-down factual idiom, avoiding any pervasive explanation of motives. What we get in this context are facts, and these facts consist largely of killings.

This is a book as hard to read as a set of Human Rights Watch reports. But it’s difficult not to be first moved and then overwhelmed by the mere listing of what happened, and in this respect Cesarani, who died in October, has fulfilled his ambition of reclaiming the killings of Jews for another generation.

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Filed under Holocaust in the news, Holocaust testimonies, Knowledge entries, Literature, Other resources

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