In 1992, amid renewed neo-Nazi agitation throughout Western Europe, a German court tried a sick old man named Josef Schwammberger for crimes committed in Poland in World War II. The survivors of the Holocaust are now in the last years of their lives, and soon there will be no one left who can offer personal witness to the appalling events of that time. This investigation of the case of the last major Nazi war criminal likely to be brought to trial explores the historical and personal legacies of the Holocaust. How did Schwammberger, an SS sergeant, come to hold absolute sway over two Polish towns? How accurate are victims' recollections? Why did the German government make no serious effort to pursue Schwammberger, until the Simon Wiesenthal Centre established his whereabouts beyond question? What can his case teach us about our shared responsibility to remember?
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The story of an SS war criminal, seen through the eyes of Holocaust survivors, and how it took 50 years to bring him to justice. Joseph Schwammberger's trial at Stuttgart in 1992 marks the end of an era: in the future, Nazi war criminals will be too old to indict or their victims will be unable to identify them with certainty. Freiwald (freelance journalist) and Mendelsohn (legal counsel for the Simon Wiesenthal Center) base their account on interviews with several of the survivors who gave evidence at Stuttgart. What emerges is both an exercise in Jewish soul- searching and a history of Schwammberger's atrocities. The story gains poignancy as the authors blend the details of Schwammberger's life and those of the survivors, although it's sometimes difficult to sort out what's happening. They stress Schwammberger's ordinariness in order to force us to ponder the terrible enigma of the Holocaust and ask what the concept of justice can mean in the wake of such an enormous ``crime.'' We learn how Schwammberger oversaw the liquidation of the Jews of Rozwadow in Poland and publicly shot their rabbi on Yom Kippur because he had abstained from work on the holy day. And how he went from door to door with his dog and armed guards through the ghetto at Przemysl, using tear gas and smoke to force hundreds to be herded into the trains or to be shot. Schwammberger was arrested at the end of the war, but he escaped and made his way to 50 years of refuge in Argentina. The authors discuss at length the Realpolitik that allowed him to be left in peace. Politics again led to Schwammberger's extradition and arrest. The scene of the survivors confronting their tormentor in court becomes for our authors a paradigm of how Germany--and the world--needs to face the past, work through and digest it, and never repeat it. A grim book that weighs vital questions of guilt, responsibility, and forgiveness. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
SS Sergeant Josef Schwammberger served as commandant of three slave-labor camps and was charged with the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Przemysl. After escaping from Allied custody in 1945, he fled to Argentina where he lived for 40 years before being recaptured (with major assistance from Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal). In 1992, in a Stuttgart courtroom, he was confronted by several survivors of his brutality. The testimony, some of it reproduced here, presents in horrific detail a portrait of an implementer of the Final Solution, a man who developed an appetite for cruelty. Convicted of murdering 25 Jews, Schwammberger was sentenced to spend his remaining years in a German prison. Justice was served but the authors call the highly publicized trial "both an act of self-flagellation and an act of defiance. The unspoken message was: See? We have put ourselves through this once again. Now leave us alone." In Freiwald and Mendelsohn's stark and thought-provoking view, the "dirty family secret" of Germany's Nazi past is being dissolved by a creeping amnesia that increasingly tolerates neo-Nazi youth and those who deny that the gas chambers ever existed. Freiwald, a Pennsylvania journalist, and Mendelson, legal counsel for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Washington, D.C., have made an important addition to Holocaust literature.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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