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review 2018-07-07 12:36
A fantastic book, didactic, entertaining, and moving. Great images and fabulous writing.
The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany - Roger Moorhouse

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by antiques and collectibles, not so much for their monetary value, as for the stories (and the History) behind the objects. As museums prove, objects can make us feel closer to other cultures and eras, creating a tangible reminder of lands and times distant from ours. Some objects might have an intrinsic interest (they are made of valuable materials, or by well-known artists), others are interesting because of their owners (kings, queens, or famous historical figures, like writers, inventors, artists…), and others because of what they represent. Although no objects are good or bad in their own right, they become infused with meaning through the use they are put to, and they can make us feel all kinds of emotions, from delight to abject fear.

In this book, the author has collected a hundred objects to give us, as the subtitle states, ‘A Material History of Nazi Germany’. And he achieves his aim with flying colours. The author is an expert on the period and has written many books about Hitler and Nazi Germany, and although I’m sure different people would have chosen differently, the selection he has put together gives the reader a good understanding of all aspects of life in Nazi Germany. We find personal objects, both of the Nazis (from Hitler’s paint box and his moustache brush to medals, decorations, and death cards) and their victims (the well-known Judenstern [the yellow star Jews had to wear), a forced labourer’s ‘Work Card’, or Sophie Scholl’s Matriculation Card [a member of the White Rose resistance movement]), objects that illustrate everyday life under the regime (ration cards, a gas-mask, the devaluated German banknotes, Hindenburg Lights…), examples of propaganda (The Schattenmann [the shadow man, a warning against talking about military secrets], a variety of posters including one for the propaganda anti-Semitic film Der Ewige Jude, the Great German Art Exhibition Catalogue, and the many imposing buildings), objects directly related to the war, including weaponry (planes, tanks, bombs, even the V-2 Missile) and documents. Each object is accompanied by a brief note (around a page or so) explaining its origin and putting it into context.

Richard Overy’s introduction sets well the project of the book and its author and emphasises the importance of image for Hitler and his party. This becomes increasingly evident as one progresses through the book, where there are ample examples of uniforms, symbolism (like their use of runes, the swastika, and the German eagle), badges… The writing is both informative and compelling, and it varies to suit the nature of the object. Sometimes it is descriptive and fairly neutral, but at others, it is impossible to read without feeling grief, sadness, and/or anger. The book has the advantage of not following a narrative thread, whereby it is easy to read in fits and starts, and readers can pick and choose the objects they are interested in, or go through them all, as I did. If we read it from beginning to end, the objects form a chronological history of sorts, as we start with objects that reflect the beginning of the regime, and eventually get to weaponry and documents from the very end of the war. The last object is Göring’s cyanide capsule, so you get the idea.

There were objects I was familiar with, and others that I knew about but had never seen (for example, the iron bed of a psychiatric asylum, that, as a psychiatrist, I found particularly moving and horrifying), and some that were complete surprises, like a Hitler Elastolin Toy Figure, the Mutterkreuz (a cross given to mothers who had 4 children or more. The author summarises it thus: It signified, in effect, the politicisation of the German womb, [Moorhouse, p. 109]), or the very cute ‘Goliath’ miniature tank (sorry, but there are some lighter moments as well. In case you feel curious, you can check it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliath_tracked_mine). What I was more impressed by, apart from the quality of both, images and writing, was the way these disparate objects and the narrative behind them managed to give me a good sense of what life was like at the time, without having to read tonnes and tonnes of pages full of dry information. This book illustrates well the power of images. I have read plenty of books set on that era and watched many movies that take place in the same historical period but seeing the real objects helped me feel closer to the action, the people, and the events than I had ever before.

I recommend this book to people interested in the history of the period who are not big experts on it and don’t want an exhaustive account of battles and events. I also recommend it to anybody thinking about writing a book about the era, or people who design sets or work sourcing props or designing backdrops and objects for theatre, television or film. There is plenty of material to inspire numerous productions, and it is all collected in a single, easy-to-read, and well-indexed volume, with notes that facilitate further research tasks. Another winning volume published by Pen & Sword.

A quick note: my version of the book is a hardback copy, but I’ve checked the e-book version and the images are as good as those in the print version (although depending on the use you are thinking of giving it, you might consider what suits you best, as there’s little difference in price between the two versions, but this varies depending on the store).

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review 2015-09-24 07:00
Six Years of Waking Nightmare: Outcry by Manny Steinberg
Outcry - Holocaust memoirs - Manny Steinberg

More than two months ago, I found a small parcel in my letterbox, neatly wrapped into brown paper and handaddressed by someone working for Amsterdam Publishers in the Netherlands. It contained the book giveaway that I had won on GOODREADS just a few days earlier and that I had expected to arrive with me only some weeks later. This was a nice surprise – not least because there was a beautiful art card of a Dutch painting from 1656 attached with a handwritten inscription on behalf of the author and the publishers. Alas, my agenda was too tight at the time to allow me to read Outcry. Holocaust Memoirs by Manny Steinberg right away.

 

Already the first page of the book caught me although it reveals little more than that the author was born Mendel Steinberg in Radom, Poland, in May 1925 and that he had two younger brothers, Stanley born in 1927 and Jacob born in 1934. Overall, this information is of little consequence and most readers will just read over it, most likely forget it, but for me it built a bridge to my own family. My mother’s three older brothers were born in the same years! Moreover, the birthday of the eldest is in May just like the author’s. The fates of our two families under Nazi rule were very different, though, because my family had the good luck (and it was nothing else!) not to be of Jewish faith, nor to have Jewish ancestors in our genealogical tree. As far as I know, the ordeal of the concentration camps was spared all members of my family, but nobody ever talked about the war years, least of all to me who was a child when those who could have shared their memories were still alive and in their minds. Thankfully, instead of keeping his memories to himself like so many others and not just in my family, Manny Steinberg made them public.

 

By contrast to other memoirists the author didn’t jump right into matters, but took his time to first recount his happy childhood. Although the chapter is titled Sunshine, his early years haven’t been a bed of roses for Mendel. Only eight years old he lost his beloved mother when his youngest brother Jacob was born. Fortunately, when his father remarried after the mourning period, he was at good terms with his step-mother. His home in the Jewish quarters of the small Polish town of Radom consisted of a two-room apartment harbouring also the tailor’s workshop of his father, so overall the family wasn’t particularly well-off, and yet, the income sufficed to feed them all well (except during the time of the Great Depression) and to give the boys a good education. Moreover, their relations with each other were warm and loving, plus they had many friends. However, already in the second half of the 1930s Mendel and Stanley faced Anti-Semitism in their surroundings and with the German invasion of 1 September 1939 everything changed to the worse.

 

As the title of the second chapter suggests, Shadows were gathering over the family. It’s here that the inconsistencies concerning the ages of Mendel and Stanley begin. The author says that “the Nazis, like locusts were covering our country, leaving only destruction and death behind”, when he was approaching the age of the Bar Mitzvah, thus his thirteenth birthday. That would have been in spring 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria (not that my country would have put up any resistance!). Only about eighteen months later it was the turn of Poland to see the German bombings that the author describes in the opening of this chapter and the creation of crowded Ghettos where thousands died from penury, illness and Nazi violence. By this time Mendel must have been past fourteen really. The family survived the daily terror of Ghetto life for nearly three years and then came an early morning in June 1942 when the Nazis knocked at their door. They separated and deported them. Mendel, now already seventeen not fourteen as stated in the book if he was really born in 1925, and his father were taken to a concentration camp nearby not knowing what was the fate of the others yet.

 

And this is the beginning of the age of Darkness in the life of Mendel Steinberg now become prisoner number 27091. The events recounted in this chapter are just as terrible, shocking and hard to believe as in other memoirs of the kind. The author creates a very vivid picture of the daily horror he experienced not sparing the reader appalling details, nor hiding his own state of mind that is often one of desperation and hatred. Only the fact that fate had it that he knew his father alive and in another barrack of the camp and that his brother Stanley was with him during most of his imprisonment gave him the strength to hold out until the liberation in April 1945 that brought back the Light. Mendel, Stanley and their father survived and seized the first opportunity to immigrate into the USA and start a new life.

 

I already mentioned the inconsistencies regarding the ages of Mendel, Stanley and Jacob in different stages of the story. I must admit that they confused me quite a bit. In addition, I’m not sure about how accurate the chronology of historical events in this memoir is. I’m no expert in the history of the Third Reich or World War II, but nonetheless sometimes the information the author gives is at odds with what I know. Maybe this is just because so many years have passed and we all know how unreliable our memory can be. For the rest, it is a very touching book that convinces with simple language without unnecessary flourish. If the topic weren't so horrible, I'd say that I enjoyed the read. In any case, the book deserves more attention – so we never forget!

 

Outcry
Holocaust Memoirs

by Manny Steinberg

 

Second (revised) edition

 

ISBN 9789082103137

Amsterdam Publishers

179 pages

 

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review 2015-05-07 12:24
No Heil Hitler - Paul Cieslar

No Heil Hitler! is a fabulous autobiography. Author Paul Cieslar tells of his experiences in Poland from the time the Nazis invaded until its liberation, and then of his experiences in Communist Poland.
Paul and his family, who were Adventists, were targeted often because they worshipped God on a Saturday. This similarity to the Jewish people was noted by the Nazis and it made life difficult for them and other Adventists. Paul does not sugarcoat his story. The brutality of the Nazis is laid bare for all to see. People are taken away, shot, murdered, tortured. Lives are ruined, families torn apart. It is confronting and often unpleasant reading but gripping and compelling, especially as he and his family rely on God's grace in the midst of appalling evil.
Highly recommended.

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review 2015-05-07 07:00
A psychologist in the Concentration Camp: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
...trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen. Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager - Viktor E. Frankl

I first read what the psychiatrist Viktor Emil Frankl experienced as a prisoner and slave laborer just before the new millennium, at a time when I was in a crisis and searching for meaning myself. I seldom reread books, but this one I read three or four times because its message is so encouraging and so inspiring.

The story of Viktor E. Frankl's time - and suffering - in the concentration camp is told from the point of view of a psychiatrist. As he would have done in a research paper, he analysed the situation and identified three psychological stages that every inmate of the concentration camps went through and that Frankl could discern on the basis of obersation of his fellow camp inmates as well as of his own experience. In the initial phase of admission to the camp every inmate was in a state of shock regarding the conditions there and the probable fate of himself as well as of his family and friends. As soon as the prisoners had become used to their miserable existence in the camp, apathy followed and all they still cared about was survival. At this point Viktor E. Frankl noticed that all those who could still find sense in life - through religion or in Frankl's case the day dream of giving a public lecture about his experiences in the concentration camp after liberation -, were more likely to live than the others.

The language of Viktor E. Frankl may sound a bit antiquated today, especially in the original German version, but the message keeps being important, consoling and encouraging. Besides, we can't be reminded too often of the horrors that Adolf Hitler and his terror regime brought over Europe, not just over the Jews, but over all people who were different in some way. Man's Search for Meaning is a book that I highly recommend to everyone, no matter if you see a meaning in your life or if you don't. The book is worthwhile the time.

To read the full-lenght review of the book on my book blog please click here.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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