try to remember the kind of September

by ada

A book from the Weltbild shop at the Lindau Park shopping mall and another from the library shelf of my workplace. Both happened almost two years ago.

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15 Comments to “try to remember the kind of September”

  1. In the small thumbnail in my email feed I wondered whether it was ’28 Days Later’ (have you seen the film?) but then the yellow star and the motor car in the background make it pretty clear what the setting is. What is the book? (I could google, but then everything is reduced to googling)
    And the second book – I could google ‘schweight’ but I am going to guess it is something about being quiet or being shut up or silenced.

    • The first book is a story about a girl in the Warsaw Ghetto during WW2 who joins the underground resistance. I’d translate it “28 Days Long”. I’m not sure if it’s appeared in English yet? David Safier is a German author, he writes mostly funny books (obviously, this book is an exception).

      Unfortunately I’m rather bad with films, I don’t watch many :o( Is it a good film?

      The second is roughly translated “A girl remains silent”, but I’m almost sure the original novel is called “A Dread of Burning”. Unfortunately I don’t have the copy. It’s about a schoolgirl with a rather odd mother and an old maid of a teacher who solves their tragic secret. A girl book ;o)

      • There is a children’s book about a Warsaw family during and after the war ‘The Silver Sword’ that stuck in my mind.

        28 Days Later is an film about the after-effects of a virus that escapes and causes an apocalypse. I have seen part of it on TV.

        • Looked up the Silver Sword on Wikipedia – it seems to be based on a real story. I became rather cautious about WW2 fiction after I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas a few years ago – that book is wrong on so many levels it’s embarrassing. The Safier book was not bad – of course I don’t know enough about the Warsaw uprising to make a proper judgement.

          The last virus apocalypse film I watched is The Outbreak (made in 1995), haha.

          • What are errors in ‘The boy…’? I saw the film and thought it felt like a children’s story but the horror that was visited on the father was powerful,.

            • I didn’t see the film, only read the book and it pissed me off so much that I actually wrote a (very negative) review of it on my now defunct Hungarian blog :DDD

              Be warned, here comes a long rant ;o)

              The protagonist is a 10-year old German boy, born and grew up in Nazi Germany, with a soldier father who is personally acquainted to Hitler, and according to the author this boy

              – does not speak German (does not know the word Führer? A German boy? In Nazi Germany? There’s no way to confuse the German words Führer and Furie. They does not sound similarly. So he conveniently uses the English word fury instead. Because that’s what German boys do when speaking German in Germany.)
              – has no idea who Hitler is
              – has no idea who the Jews are and what is the official point of view about them
              – spends a whole year meeting daily and playing chess if I remember correctly, with a KZ prisoner without anybody noticing
              – just lifts up the (electric) barbed wire fence to go in and out of the world’s most dreaded KZ camp as he pleases, without anybody noticing (Because that’s how easy it was. The prisoners totally stayed there and died only because they wanted to stay there and die. They could have just lifted up the electric barbed wire fence and flee if they wanted to! But they didn’t!)

              So this totally clueless German boy, who does not speak his own native language and has somehow missed all the race education classes at school, befriends a similarly clueless Jewish boy at Auschwitz, who, according to John Boyne

              – does not get killed upon arrival
              – spends two whole years in an extermination camp without realizing that people are dying there
              – loses his whole family without realizing that they died
              – has nothing else to do in a KZ camp for a whole year but to sit at the (electric) barbed wire fence making friends without a single guard noticing
              – lets people in and out of a death camp without a single guard noticing
              – has a whole set of brand new “striped pyjamas” at his will (other prisoners are risking their lives for a piece of rotten potato, but this ten year old boy has free access to any luxury goods he fancies, like extra clothing)

              And those are the mistakes I still remember today, after reading it more than 6 years ago.
              You sure know the Eli Wiesel quote about Shoah business? That’s what comes to my mind if I think of this book. Do you want to earn money with your book? So easy. Put a child (or better two) in a concentration camp and let them die. Everybody cries and everybody pays. I don’t know what they made out of the film, but the book is clearly intended to be a money mine with the least possible amount of work put into it. I read somewhere that he wrote it in a few days without researching the subject – it clearly shows.

              The Holocaust is a terrible tragedy with effects still lasting over multiple generations. Simplifying it into kitschy romantic stories that could have never happened in real life does not help to heal the scars. It’s rather disrespectful. IMO.
              Sorry for the rant.

              • No need to apologise for the rant. As I said, I watched the film as a parable of how a haughty father was taught to face the consequences of his lack of compassion through the instrument of his son – the thing he cared about and on whose behalf he was supposedly creating a safer Germany by killing off its enemies.

                I imagine you have read Fatelessness by Imre Kertész.

                • I totally get what his intended plot was. It could have been a powerful story had he done his job properly and had done some research. But he haven’t. One can not build his conclusions on arguments that are completely false. Suggesting the situations he is suggesting throughout the book is falsifying history.

                  I have been a ten year old child in a totalitarian regime. Believe me – there is absolutely no chance for a ten year old child in a totalitarian regime to avoid knowing the main person and the ideology of said regime. At the end of the eighties Socialism was already pretty mild in Hungary, there were no operating work camps anymore and almost nobody was sent to prison for his religious beliefs, but we all still very well knew who Lenin – the Führer of Socialism – was. His picture and sculptures were everywhere, we learnt about him at school, sung the Soviet anthem, celebrated his birthday, etc, etc. He was dead more than 60 years at that point and he still ruled our everyday lives. Multiply it with ten, add the Kristallnacht, pogroms, the well advertised war situation, the obligatory Hitlerjugend and a Führer who is living, well and active (not dead since 60 years, like our good father Lenin) and you get Nazi Germany. Suggesting that under such circumstances it was possible to remain unaware of your surroundings and spending your ten years of life without hearing the words “Führer” and “Jews” uttered even once is complete bullshit.

                  Sorry, you can not make me like this book ;o)

                  Anyway. I read Fateless about ten-fifteen years ago. I also saw the movie. Poor Kertész, he was made the Nr 1 Enemy of the Hungarian Literature for getting that Nobel prize.

  2. Actually, I don’t recall whether in the film it is clear that the boy doesn’t know about the regime and the führer. You make a good point of course about how they managed to get into and out of the camp so easily.

    One thing I cannot experience is what it must have been like for you as a child in a totalitarian regime.

    What happened with Kertész that he was made #1 enemy?

    • Well, in the book it was one of the main points. He has never heard of the Führer (how???) so he mistook his name for “fury” (I’ll generously spare you another rant about how Germans speak German instead of English). He asked his sister, who Jews are and if they were Jews too (he obviously never set foot in a school. Or outside his home. He lived in a closet on the Moon). He pronounced Auschwitz as Out-with (looks like a serious case of delayed speech development for a ten year old).

      It would have been perfectly fine if the author tells us that this boy had no idea that KZ camps exist and what happens in them. That would have been credible enough. There was absolutely no need to portray that poor child as a complete idiot with hearing impairment and speech impediment.

      Just an example: my father was 8 years old during the ’56 revolution. He still remembers seeing dead bodies hanging from the street lamps on his way from school. At the age of 8 he knew completely well that those people were killed. Children are not stupid.

      As of my childhood, I remember it as pretty great :o) Of course my recollections are the subjective and in no way accurate recollections of a child.

      My point is that in a totalitarian regime there is really no way for a child to escape the actual ideology. In our case it was Socialism – and believe me, we were completely aware that we live in Socialism, and that the greatest man ever in history was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and that the Red Army saved us from the Nazis and made our country free and that they are still there to protect us from the capitalist monsters, etc, etc. I wasn’t a particularly bright child, in fact I did not care much about anything other than my recorder lessons and Géza, the school hamster, but even I managed to get these facts right :DDD

      There was a framed picture of Lenin in every classroom, along with the Hungarian and Soviet flags, a red star and the quote “Lenin lived, Lenin lives and Lenin will live”. We had to join the pioneers (there was a moral code to learn by heart and an oath to swear), had to wear uniforms with red/blue kerchiefs, pins and a whistle. We met every week to discuss our good deeds of the past week and to make plans for the following. Everybody had a function in the group – I was First Aid Provider. I was also responsible for the class board decoration – I had a drawer full of Lenin pictures, I cut them out of newspapers. I was rotating them on the board depending on the occasion – a smiling Lenin for Christmas, a serious Lenin for November 7th, etc. We went to summer camps where we saluted to the flag every morning and went on night guard duty in two-hour-rotations (in the present society it seems unbelievable that 9-10 year old children were going around in the woods alone in the middle of the night, but back then nobody was concerned about it). Once a year, on Defense-day we went to an army base to run around on military training fields and practice shooting. We learnt Russian language. We sung the Soviet anthem. 30 years later I still remember all the songs.

      We did not know about the work camps, the relocations, the confiscations, that people were killed or imprisoned for basically nothing, that the Communist/Socialist regime had more victims than the Holocaust and that we were not freed but occupied by the Soviet army. But we darn well knew that Lenin lived, lives and will live ;o)

      The ideological education of the next generation is the main weapon of any regime. Children accept any ideology they are presented with by the society they are living in. And they can not be made responsible for the consequences. It’s pretty frightening, actually.

      • Of Kertész Imre – he made the mistake of acknowledging the shortcomings of the present Hungarian society. The present Hungarian society does not like critic and can not receive it with grace.
        On a side note – without googling the topic, I can not name you a single Hungarian Nobel prize winner who was living in Hungary, It seems Hungarian society also dislikes Nobel prize winners, haha.

        There is an interview with him about his thoughts on Hungary – it may make you understand why he is not accepted by all the Turul people. I actually agree with him on a lot in this interview:

        https://www.theguardian.com/global/2012/feb/12/imre-kertesz-hungary-wrong-side-history

  3. By the way, there are a couple of passages in Fatelessness that I carry with me, made an impression on me – one is how when he first arrived at the camp, he thought the prisoners helping to unload the train were criminals because of their striped uniforms and shaved heads. I had never seen the scene in my mind’s eye before as though through the eyes of someone who truly does not know where he/she has arrived.

    The other is how he talks about vanity being with him almost to the grave – as when he is almost dead and left in a barrow on the ‘wrong’ side of the wire, how his vanity will not allow him to ask the POWs where he is.

    • I can’t comment on Fatelessness – it was very long ago that I read it and my recollections of it are really vague. I remember the story and some scenes from the movie, but I don’t want to form an opinion based on such little material. I should reread it. My father has to have a Hungarian copy – I have it only in German.

      I was always wondering how was it possible to block all information so perfectly about what’s going on in the camps. Even if there were rumours, nobody believed them. Then I saw an exhibition in the Dachau concentration camp which included some early newspaper articles. They were written in a way that created the illusion that camp life is easy, funny, joyful and the prisoners are enjoying every second while doing meaningful work and preparing for their rehabilitation back into society. There were actually photos of well clothed, clean prisoners and guards smiling at each other and looking happy.

      • There was the smell. Dachau was right there in Germany and more than 30,000 were killed and cremated. How could people nearby ignore the smell? It opened in 1933 for political prisoners, so ‘ordinary people’ might have feared being caught in the political machine if they said the wrong thing. Still, the smell… Of course, Auschwitz, for example, was conveniently situated 500km further east – but the smell must have been terrible. I have reflected sometimes on what people want out of life. Soldiers might have preferred guarding the camp to being on the Eastern Front, but the daily life must have been like hell (even if they could get to act like gods on Earth).

  4. Actually, I didn’t mean the German people, those who were living in town – I’m pretty sure they all knew what’s going on, if not the details but they sure got the big picture. Of course they were frightened and cautious. Dachau was common knowledge, there were political jokes and satirical poems about it well before the war. That’s one reason I was always wondering how could people avoid getting to know all those information. The Jewry from the Eastern European countries, small villages – they were somewhat secluded. But the Jewry of the big German cities? The urban intellectual circle, the lawyers, writers, artists, doctors, musicians, teachers – they were in the middle of it. And yet, they had no idea – or chose to have no idea, because it was easier to pretend that such things can’t happen to us than to accept that yes, they in fact do? Or maybe that’s where the Nazi propaganda like those false newspaper articles came in? Like see, they just make us do some work in some factory to help out till we win the war, it can’t be that bad? And then there were of course the members of the Judenrat – they sure knew. And yet, so many people arrived at the camps without knowing what’s going on there. I always found this very disturbing.

    I never cared much about camp guards, I guess some were ordered there and some have chosen it voluntarily. There are many recollections of them actually enjoying their “job”. Of course there is always a process a human being must go through to reach the point where he thinks he has the right to not acknowledge other human beings as such. But I’m not sure life as a camp guard felt like hell for them. People can get used to seeing/doing terrible things if they don’t feel personally threatened by them, pretty quickly. There were some photos discovered a few years ago, showing Auschwitz guards having fun and picnicking, I don’t remember the name of the photographer but I do remember the photos. Those people seemed to really enjoy themselves.

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