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One Life Hardcover – November 8, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author, an American-born scholar living in Berlin, documents the Nazi era in Germany through eight largely unconnected stories of lesser-known figures—some perpetrators, some victims, one a vicious dog at Treblinka (or perhaps it's really about Konrad Lorenz, a former Nazi party member and later Nobelist who testifies on the dog's behalf). Despite Lampert's prodigious research, he is less than successful in meeting his intent "to alleviate some of the moralizing pressure... that make[s] it impossible to think concretely about... the Holocaust." He wants readers to see that not all perpetrators were evil, nor all victims innocent. Miriam P. is a young, criminally destructive Jewish psychopath executed by the Nazis in their roundup of mental patients. Erich B. is a ruthless SS executioner who loved his children and suffered greatly from physical ailments. The most nuanced and compelling chronicle is that of Karl L., who headed the Jewish police in Theresienstadt, obsessively pursuing stealing and corruption by prisoners; later, when accused of Nazi collaboration, he defended his actions as in the best interest of the inmates. But it's not news that some Nazis, like Wilhelm K. in the title piece, tried to save some Jews, or that some Jews may have collaborated with the Nazis. Does knowledge of this interfere with clear moral thinking about the Holocaust? Though his tales are fascinating, Lampert's purpose in telling them seems muddled.
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From Booklist

Actually, it's eight very different lives in Nazi Germany, each structured into narrative from correspondence, state records, and other documents. For Wilhelm K., it's the story of a long career in Nazi bureaucracy in Belarus and a conflicted relationship with the cultural assets of the East. The story of Wilhelm H., on the other hand, is narrower, limited to the trial and execution of an aged pensioner who crayoned anti-Hitler graffiti in a public toilet. For pathos, though, the narrative about Mirjam P., the runaway teenager whose petty adolescent crime leads her to the gas chamber, is most haunting. There is also the curious account of an attack dog that bites as an extension of his master. Lampert's stated intent is posterity: to present individual stories without commentary or moral evaluation. Such will to documentary purity is quite rare and, in this case, special. Readers who skip the foreword to this book may find themselves quite engrossed before they realize that the true stories they find so captivating are in fact as firmly grounded in primary-source evidence as most dissertations. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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