"Nobody wanted to touch the wounds," was the way
Rabbi Solomon Aidelson put it. He was speaking of reactions to
what had yet to be called the Holocaust during the early post
World War II period when he came to this country as a young
survivor. The subject opened up slowly. It would not be until
several decades after the murder of Europe's Jews and other
heinous Nazi crimes had passed before such events became widely
discussed and depicted in the media, books and films, part of
school curricula, indeed academic courses and programs of study.
In this new century, the extent of attention paid to the
Holocaust, from so many different perspectives, in so many
disciplines and genres, might lead one to think the subject
has become exhausted. But of course, there is always more to be
Two new books enrich the ongoing conversation.
The Third Reich at War by Cambridge University professor Richard
J. Evans (Penguin, $40) is the third volume in a series preceded
by The Coming of the Third Reich (2003)) and The Third Reich in
Power (2005). With this work, Evans completes what he terms
"broad, general, large-scale histories of Nazi Germany . . .
written for a general audience." The Holocaust, of necessity,
the rising tide of anti Semitism that preceded it, the ruthless,
well-oiled machinery that enabled it, plays a major role in all
three books, especially this final volume which documents the
actual events of the war in Europe on the battlefields and home
front, in the occupation zones and extermination camps. But
their span embraces the entirety of Hitler's Germany including
its historical and philosophical contexts, its political,
economic, and military dimensions.
One of the things that makes these volumes so
well-suited to the general audience the author aims to reach is
their reliance on first-hand testimony. In his enhancement of
narrative with the specifics of human experience, Evans is part
of a welcoming trend among historians who resist the
methodologies of the social sciences in favor of personal
accounts. While each of these works is the product of
prodigious, scholarly research and analysis, they are all
compelling, significant and memorable reads.
Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin
Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler by
Anne Nelson (Random House $27) is a very different take on the
subject. It is but one small story, that of a group of
individuals fighting Fascism in the heart of war-time Berlin who
give weight to the claim that yes, there were "good Germans,"
men and women courageous and humane enough to defy Nazism.
Ordinary and at the same time extraordinary people, they were
loyal citizens by day -- some working deep within the Nazi
bowels, confidants of well-placed officials. But by night, they
were brave resisters, pasting anti-Nazi stickers on walls,
stuffing anti-Nazi flyers in mailboxes, managing an underground
railroad that moved escapees through safe houses to Switzerland.
Some were caught, tortured, executed. The Gestapo had identified
the group as part of a Soviet conspiracy, a fiction the East
German government made political hay of after the war. How all
this occurred and how the legacy of the Red Orchestra was
ultimately made plain emerge in this dramatic and moving book
that is a triumphant vindication of the potential of the human
Anne Nelson is an author and photographer who
also teaches at the School of International and Public Affairs
at Columbia. She relies in large measure on the voices of those
who lived it to tell this tale. Chief among them is a seemingly
ordinary German woman, educated in the United States at the
University of Wisconsin, who together with a group of friends
defies the unspeakable horrors of an unspeakable regime. Filled
with heartbreak and drama, Red Orchestra is a worthy addition to
literature of the Second World War bringing to light a little
known yet important and inspirational chapter in the overall