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Heidegger's Glasses: A Novel Paperback – October 11, 2011
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Set in Germany, towards the end of WWII, an underground compound houses a number of Jewish scribes. The only reason why they've managed to avoid being transported to concentration camps or shot outright is because of their multi-language skills. They're kept in this compound to answer letters written by victims in concentration camps, most of whom had died by the time their letters were replied to. As Himmler dabbles in the occult, he believed that if the letters of the dead were answered, their spirits would be appeased and Germany will win the war.
Elie has changed her last name and so her identity, which allows her to work within the Nazi Party in this compound, but also allows her to cloak herself in the resistance movement where she helps to rescue and smuggle out Jews. Lodenstein, her lover and Nazi officer commanding this compound is also part of this resistance movement. All of their efforts and their lives are now at risk because of an unexpected mission that has been given to them. Heidegger, a German philosopher has broken his glasses and has asked for a new one made for him by his old friend, Asher. Unbeknownst to him, Asher is in Auschwitz, and rather than have him search out his old friend and discover the dastardly secret gas chambers, Goebbles has instructed the scribes to respond to Heidegger's letter in the same manner in which Asher would have responded and to deliver his glasses together with the letter to him. Unfortunately nothing goes according to plan, and Elie's identity is compromised.
There is nothing for it but for Lodenstein to visit Goebbels and try to cover up the mistake. This results in him being thrown into jail for a week and then sent off with Heidegger to Auschwitz to find Asher and his son. Asher has, in the meantime been pulled from hard labor, given regular food and clothes, and set in a lab to make glasses for the camp officers, so that when Heidegger arrived, he wouldn't realize his friend had been tortured and starved.
What is striking is the mental anxieties that Asher goes through when he is first pulled off hard labor. He expects to be shot or sent to the gas chambers are every small bit of kindness received from the guards. From his window he looks out on the snow covered ground, stained pink from the blood of executed prisoners.
Interspersed throughout the book are what appears to be short notes and letters from Holocaust victims, initially somewhat simple and innocuous but which gradually become darker and then painful towards the end. The letters help create a very moving platform on which the characters in the book are supported. As the letters progress from mere disquiet at the disappearance of people to stark terror and horror about death camps, so too do certain characters in this compound have to stare their own tragic pasts in the face or the killer within themselves.
This is a book that will stay with you for a long time.