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.
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.
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 Klausas 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 Bedzins 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 Fulbrooks 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 dont mind the heaviness of the text, what they will find regarding a mans capacity to dissociate himself from the evil to which he contributes will both captivate and disturb. 15 b&w halftones, 4 maps. (Nov.) 2012 Reed Business Information
"Not limited to the perspective of the perpetrators and bystanders, the book illuminates the destiny of the 85,000 Jews who went through the ghettos of the county, thus pioneering an integrative history of the Holocaust. Summing Up:
Highly recommended." --CHOICE