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A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaustby Mary Fulbrook
Synopses & Reviews
The Silesian town of Bedzin lies a mere twenty-five miles from Auschwitz; through the linked ghettos of Bedzin and its neighbouring town, some 85,000 Jews passed on their way to slave labour or the gas chambers.
The principal civilian administrator of Bedzin, Udo Klausa, was a happily married family man. He was also responsible for implementing Nazi policies towards the Jews in his area - inhumane processes that were the precursors of genocide. Yet he later claimed, like so many other Germans after the war, that he had 'known nothing about it'; and that he had personally tried to save a Jew before he himself managed to leave for military service. A Small Town Near Auschwitz re-creates Udo Klausa's story. Using a wealth of personal letters, memoirs, testimonies, interviews and other sources, Mary Fulbrook pieces together his role in the unfolding stigmatization and degradation of the Jews under his authoritiy, as well as the heroic attempts at resistance on the part of some of his victims. She also gives us a fascinating insight into the inner conflicts of a Nazi functionary who, throughout, considered himself a 'decent' man. And she explores the conflicting memories and evasions of his life after the war.
But the book is much more than a portrayal of an individual man. Udo Klausa's case is so important because it is in many ways so typical. Behind Klausa's story is the larger story of how countless local functionaries across the Third Reich facilitated the murderous plans of a relatively small number among the Nazi elite - and of how those plans could never have been realized, on the same scale, without the diligent cooperation of these generally very ordinary administrators. As Fulbrook shows, men like Klausa 'knew' and yet mostly suppressed this knowledge, performing their day jobs without apparent recognition of their own role in the system, or any sense of personal wrongdoing or remorse - either before or after 1945.
This account is no ordinary historical reconstruction. For Fulbrook did not discover Udo Klausa amongst the archives. She has known the Klausa family all her life. She had no inkling of her subject's true role in the Third Reich until a few years ago, a discovery that led directly to this inescapably personal professional history.
"Auschwitz is peripheral to this academic but often horrific account of a Polish county, Bedzin, and its German administrator, Udo Klausa, during WWII. Thanks to family connections (he himself knew Klausa for years), Fulbrook, professor of German history at University College, London, was granted access to the Klausa family archive. Using this material, especially the letters of Klausa's wife, and other newly discovered archival materials, Fulbrook explores how a mid-level Nazi bureaucrat went about his duties as unspeakable events occurred under his nose. Klausa arrived at his post in February 1940, five months after invading Nazis had herded hundreds of Jews into the town of Bedzin's synagogue before burning it down. Although not directly responsible, Klausa witnessed public hanging, starvation, expulsion of Jews from jobs and homes, and repeated deportation. He and his wife often expressed discomfort but mostly got on with their lives. Despite Fulbrook's personal motivations for embarking on this project, it remains scholarly: dense with citations, analyses of evidence and motivation, and long summaries of ongoing historical controversies. If general readers don't mind the heaviness of the text, what they will find regarding a man's capacity to dissociate himself from the evil to which he contributes will both captivate and disturb. 15 b&w halftones, 4 maps." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In A Small Town Near Auschwitz, historian Mary Fulbrook tells the story of Udo Klausa, a civilian administrator in the small town of Bedzin, an ordinary functionary who helped implement the Nazis' inhumane policies towards the Jews. Using a wealth of personal letters, memoirs, testimonies, interviews, and other sources, Fulbrook pieces together Klausa's role in the unfolding destruction of the Jews under his authority, as well as the heroic attempts at resistance on the part of some of the victims of Nazi racial policies in this area. She also offers fascinating insight into the inner conflicts of a Nazi bureaucrat who, throughout, considered himself "a decent man."
Udo Klausa's case is so important because it is in many ways so typical. Behind Klausa's story is the larger story of how countless local functionaries across the Third Reich facilitated the murderous plans of a relatively small number among the Nazi elite--plans that could never have been realized, on the same scale, without the diligent cooperation of these very ordinary men. As Fulbrook shows, men like Klausa "knew" and yet mostly suppressed this knowledge, performing their day jobs without apparent recognition of their own role in the carnage, or any sense of personal wrongdoing or remorse--either before or after 1945.
For Fulbrook, an eminent historian, the story of Udo Klausa hits very close to home, because Fulbrook's mother was both a refugee from Nazi Germany and a close friend of Klausa's wife. Fulbrook has known the Klausa family all her life, but had no inkling of Udo's true role in the Third Reich until a few years ago, a stunning discovery that led directly to this deeply personal history of life in Nazi Germany.
About the Author
Mary Fulbrook is Professor of German History at University College London. She has written widely on modern German history, including A Concise History of Germany; A History of Germany 1918-2000: The Divided Nation; German National Identity after the Holocaust; Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR; and The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker. Her most recent book is Dissonant Lives: Generations and Violence through the German Dictatorships. A fellow of the British Academy, she is former Chair of the German History Society and a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Foundation for the former Concentration Camps at Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora.
Table of Contents
1. Legacies of Violence
2. Before 1939
3. Border Crossings
4. The Making of a Nazi Landrat
5. An Early Question of Violence
6. 'Only administration'
7. Means of Survival
8. Escalation, 1941-42
9. Towards Extermination
10. The Deportations of August 1942
11. Ghettoization for the 'Final Solution'
12. Final Thresholds
13. Afterwards and After-words
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