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Gotz and Meyer Hardcover – December 5, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Embodiments of the banality of evil, Götz and Meyer are two German SS noncommissioned officers who drive a truck in which, over a period of weeks, they gas to death 5,000 Jewish inmates of a Belgrade concentration camp. "They are conscientious, they always arrive on time, they are calm and cheerful... their uniforms tidy, their step light," and they even hand out chocolates to cheer up the children they are about to kill. The nameless narrator of this haunting Holocaust story, a Jewish teacher in post–Cold War Belgrade, fixates on the two men to get a handle on the murder of his parents' families by the Nazis. Serbian novelist Albahari (Bait) imagines the mundane circumstances of their lives as their obscene task dulls into everyday routine, and delves into the history of those who died in the camp. He elaborates the details of the Nazi extermination apparatus, how the carbon monoxide gas acts, the hopeless stabs at normality by the imprisoned Jews. Eventually, the narrator's flat, prosaic recitation of facts merges with hallucinatory reveries in which both his relatives and their murderers come to life. Even as his attempts to extract meaning through a historical recreation of the catastrophe grow increasingly futile, they yield in the end a numbed but moving elegy. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

"What would I have done?" is a fundamental question in Holocaust literature. Translated from the Serbian, this stirring novel draws on a wealth of archival materials, maps, and Nazi bureaucratic records about the concentration camp at the Belgrade Fairgrounds, from where, over five months in 1942, 5,000 Jews were loaded into a truck and gassed. A Serbian Jewish college professor looks back now and obsessively imagines himself as perpetrator, victim, and bystander. Who were the two drivers who connected the exhaust pipe each time so that the fumes killed the passengers? How did it become just a routine job? Who buried the heaped corpses? What if one kid tried to resist? How could Belgrade citizens not know? There are no chapters or even paragraphs, but the spacious text is simple and eloquent, and readers will be drawn into the professor's obsessive first-person narrative in which the horror is in the facts of bureaucratic efficiency and the unimaginable evil in ordinary life. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt (December 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151011419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151011414
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,890,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Gotz and Meyer. To the narrator who has lost all his family to the Holocaust, these non-commissioned SS officers are nondescript, almost featureless, blonde-haired, blue-eyed. Without doubt, they are loyal to the Reich and the Fuhrer. Their truck, a Sauer, is specially made, hermetically sealed and can hold up to a hundred people at a time. The occupants think they are leaving a terrible camp, the Fairgrounds, near Belgrade, in Serbia, climbing cooperatively into the vehicle. After a trip that ends with the death of the passengers, their corpses are unloaded by seven Serbians, who drag them unceremoniously to a ready mass grave. Most of the occupants are women and children, the Serbian Jewish men long since murdered, save a few to keep order in the camps.

The Nazi's have a systematic design for deceiving Jews, setting up the Jewish Administration, convincing them the camps are really reception centers before transportation to an undesignated country. None of the incarcerated Jews ever try to run away, so thoroughly entrenched in the deception, participants in a cogent and orderly world to the end. Gassing is cost-effective, considering the price of ammunition, not to mention easier psychologically on all concerned, but it is the very efficiency that begins to eat at the narrator, as he sifts through facts about Gotz and Meyer's particular assignment, the amount of food and milk allotted to each prisoner, the harvesting of false hope to assure compliance, the stoic resolve of the commanders, the willing Jewish Administration trying to alleviate the suffering in the camp.
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Format: Hardcover
The speaker of this long monologue by Serbian author David Albahari is a teacher of Serbo-Croatian language and literature, a 50-year-old Jewish man who has been trying to fill in the spaces in his family tree after World War II in Yugoslavia. The extermination of Jews started early in Yugoslavia, with most of the Jewish men of Serbia shot to death by the fall of 1941, and "the Jewish Question in Serbia almost completely solved" by April, 1942, when virtually all Jewish men, women, and children were dead.

Imagining the lives of Gotz and Meyer, two SS guards who were responsible for over 5000 Jewish deaths, the speaker examines the events for which Gotz and Meyer were responsible between November, 1941, and April, 1942--the executions of one thousand Jews per month in the Belgrade Saurer truck they drove daily. The truck, with its hermetically sealed rear compartment, had a hole in the floor into which the exhaust was pumped as prisoners were being taken from the Belgrade Fairgrounds camp, where they were housed, to "better" accommodations elsewhere, "a concern of the German government for the good of the prisoners" that the speaker finds "touching."

Albahari exhibits a mordant humor as his speaker imagines the inner lives of Gotz and Meyer. Often juxtaposing horrifying atrocity against simple, folksy observation, the speaker fantasizes about "Gotz, or was it Meyer," a phrase which echoes throughout the narrative. As he puts himself into their minds, he wonders if they had nicknames, if their wives had pet names for them, and if they ever regretted what they were doing, since they were so good at their jobs. "Killing, too, is an art," the speaker says, "and it has its own rules.
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Format: Paperback
Describing the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt wrote of "the banality of evil." In this attempt to understand the unspeakable, Albahari's unnamed narrator, a Jewish schoolteacher in Belgrade, begins not in anger but with empathy. Götz and Meyer are two noncommissioned SS officers, whose names he has turned up in the records, while researching the fate of his own forebears. He sees them as ordinary Germans, family men perhaps, fond of children, and taking pride in the efficient accomplishment of their job. That this job is to drive the sealed truck that asphyxiates 100 Jews with engine exhaust on each trip from the holding camp to the burial fields does not lessen his interest in inviting them into his mind, and talking with them in his imagination. Eventually, just as his obsession with the ordinary begins to verge on madness, he embarks on a symbolic reenactment with his own pupils, thus "sowing the seeds of remembering" for future generations. This short book, which flows in a single unbroken paragraph of lucid prose, is impossible to put down, and the almost genial understatement of its opening in no way diminishes its cumulative power.
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Format: Hardcover
This addition to the lengthy bibliography of Holocaust-related fiction centers on the Final Solution's application in Nazi-occupied Serbia from November 1941 to April 1942. Specifically, the camp established at the fairgrounds outside Belgrade, where approximately 5,000 Jews were interred. The narrator is a middle-aged literature professor whose ancestors mostly perished either at the camp or in a truck repurposed as a mobile gas chamber. This truck was operated by the titular SS men, who, over the course of a few months, drove the 5,000 away -- ostensibly to a newer, better facility, but in reality to a mass grave. The book is the professor's reimagining of the two men's duties, of the final weeks of their victims, and of the city's non-Jewish bystanders. Over the course of the book, he delves deeper and deeper into archives, records, and history itself, in an attempt to understand it all -- gradually driving himself somewhat mad in the process. In attempting to put a face on the two Germans, he starts to have conversations with them, and then even visions. Along the way, themes familiar to the Holocaust are touched upon: innocence is meaningless, evil can be faceless, mechanistic, and impersonal, and above all is the question of what we would do confronted with the situation. As the professor grows more and more unstable, the author seems to be warning us that to try and understand any of this is a path to madness. It's all moderately interesting, but not 160 pages interesting. And though Albahari's decision to write the story as a single paragraph with no breaks does add to the sense of claustrophobic mania, it's not exactly reader-friendly. Probably unlikely to be of interest to anyone not already deeply interested in the Holocaust or Serbia.
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