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May 16, 1980 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1980-05-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

16 Friday, May 16, 1980


Historical Novel Reviews Jewish
Life Germany During War



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Though "The Missing
Years" (Little, Brown) is his
first novel, Walter Laqueur
writes like a man who is
comfortable with his words.
Justifiably, so, because he is
one of the most prolific aca-
demics and modern histo-
"The Missing Years" is
the story of Dr. Richard
Lasson and his family's sur-
vival in Germany through
the end of the Second World
War. What makes this story
fascinating is that Lasson
was one of a handful of Jews
permitted to remain in Be-
rlin during the Nazi's fanat-
ical drive for a final solu-
This work, an historical
novel, is much more than a
piece of fiction. It is not only
the story of a man who re-
mained in Germany as a
"privileged Jew" married to
an Aryan. Nor, is it simply
the enticing, if not particu-
larly exciting, story of his
children's escape to Switzer-
Using the medium of
fiction, Laqueur suc-
cessfully presents the
emotional sense of the
era. The work is unham-
pered by the detached
objectivity required of
the historian but uncom-
fortable to the reader of
the novel.
Throughout this book. the
reader forgets he is reading
a novel. The historical set-
ting and events take prece-
dence over the story of the
individual. There is no sus-
pense and a minimum of ex-
citement. It is a sober, yet
dramatic, account of events
from a retrospective point of
There is no question as to
Dr. Lasson's survival and
though a substantial por-
tion of the book is devoted to



his sons' escape to Switzer-
land, we know from the
onset that they will survive.
Instead the book's value is
from its realistic insight
into the lives of people very
few of us know existed.
The author makes no pre-
tense as to why he has cho-
sen the medium of fiction. In
this case, fiction seemed to
be the best way to capture
the feeling of the era.
"There is a basic difference
between the historian and
the writer of historical
novels," according to the
narrator. "We novelists
study human relationships,
portray living characters,
try to show that each
human being is somehow
unique. We need a plot
where everyone and every-
thing is accorded a certain
role so as to make the whole
picture convincing." This
fiction is more historical in-
terpretation than the
writer's imagination.
One easily becomes
engrossed in the feeling
and sense of the era. The
culture and accultura-
tion of German Jewry,
the suffering, and the
human drama are all in-
cluded in an unpretenti-
ous way. Where the writ-
ing is not exciting, the
story and detail is com-
Historical anecdotes like
the escape of animals from
Berlin's Teirgarten follow-
ing a bombing raid and the
constant tie-ins with events
of the era make this book
even more appealing.
Historical and moral
questions are tackled
through the lives of the
characters. Is it one's duty
to go to death to share the
fact of other victims, or can
one survive and escape to
pay tribute to those who
have perished?
There is the injustice of
the period: the fear, the in-
formers and the ridiculous-
ness of the anti-Jewish
laws. There is also innate
justice as groups of remain-
ing Jewish youth, and in-
deed Lasson himself, choose
to identify as Jews under
conditions in which they did
not have to, and when it
may have been in their
interest not to. All the char-
acters have a deep sense of
history as they relate their
situation to that of other
times and places.
Perhaps most appeal-
ing about this book, how-
ever, is its revelation of
the human nature within
us all. We are provided an
understanding of how so
many waited to react to
the rising anti-Semitism
and how so many contin-
ued to believe that this
German racism was not
authentic. "For after all,"
Lasson looks back at the
first signs of the catas-
trophe to come, the
(First World) War years
had been untypical years
of enormous economic
strain; and just as indi-
viduals are not judged by
what they would say or
do in a state of intoxica-

tion, it was widely be-
lieved that there was no
reason for despair, that
in normal circumstances
people would behave
differently, and that in
any case civilization
would gradually reassert
Lasson's generation had
been raised to believe in the
rule of law. There were
limits to the extent wh -1^
even the authorities c
overstep. His survival waz a
result of circumstances
more than any specific ac-
The generation of Las-
son's children, however,
learned that in order to sur-
vive, history had to be taken
into one's own hands. Thus
we find the Lasson children
concealing from even their
parents their participation
in the Zionist underground.
For all that has happened,
you are not left with a sense
of anger at what the Nazis
have done. In the end the
feeling is melancholy, of
loss and of bewilderment.
Two years ago, Gerald
Green was quite successful
with the story of the
Holocaust, written in novel
form. In this volume, histo-
rian Walter Laqueur has
composed a work of compar-
able interest and value.

Book Offers
New Insight
to Golem Legend

The continuation of a
story that dates back some
400 years, "The Golem of
Prague" by Gershon Wink-
ler (Judaica Press), provides
interesting reading for
adults and children alike.
In the spring of 1580,
Yehuda Ben-Bezalel, the
rabbi of Prague, created a
man out of clay in order to
protect the Jews from perse-
cution. The legend of the
Golem has captivated both
Jews and Christians ever
This contemporary ver-
sion of Golem stories is
prefaced by a comprehen-
sive overview of kabala, a
traditional Jewish perspec-
tive of the occult and a look
at other golems in Jewish
"The Golem of Prague" is
the first serious attempt to
portray the golem epic fr-- --1
a non-legendary viewpc
The book includes illustra--
tions by Yochanan Jones.


New Settlemen

new Gush Emunim settle-
ment, Tel Hadasha, was es-
tablished on the West Bank
just north of Jerusalem by
the World Zionist Organiza-
tion's settlement depart-
The settlement, located
on land purchased by Jews,
was approved several
months ago by the Cabinet's
Ministerial Settlement
Committee. It is the 44th
Jewish settlement on the
West Bank.

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