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The Writing isn't up to the Story
on August 22, 2012
I couldn't go on reading this. Which isn't about the subject matter - I've seen quite a few films about the Holocaust, as well as about Germany and Poland before or after the war, & read some books already. It's just that the dialogue is so hackneyed - I don't know if that's how it was originally written, has to do with the translation, or both. I mean, a Readers Digest level of hackneyed. Which, given Simone De Beauvoir's preface, surprised me (I imagine she wanted to be supportive of the project as a whole).
Also, the author purports to know how entire rooms and groups of people feel. Which would be okay if this were entirely fictional. But since this is at its heart a documentary text; or purports to at least encompass documentary, it doesn't work for me. Even if Steiner heard hundreds of first-hand accounts, it's still inaccurate by its very nature to say that "the entire room was fearful" or "the entire room was stunned," especially if he wasn't there. On the other hand, he says things like "the Gentiles were stronger" as a partial explanation for lack of Jewish resistance to pogroms, etc. As that's part of the "character study," so to speak, that he's laying out to explain the sociocultural milieu leading up to Jewish behavior around the Holocaust, I was confused & frustrated when he didn't explain that statement at all.
As I read through the first few chapters - especially the section that attempts to replicate Pessia's story - I kept thinking, "They wouldn't say this in this way," or "Just tell the story!" For instance, there are several examples of people saying that they are enduring abuse so that they can, later, tell their story. It doesn't feel right that these people would, relatively early on, and ignorant of the gas chambers, be already thinking about posterity. Since it's part of the book's theme, I suppose Steiner felt he had to start hammering the point home.
I can tell that this would be a powerful story without the drawing-out, decoration, and occasionally confusing omissions that happen here. The subject's already rife with conflict and drama.
Having recently re-immersed myself in Holocaust films & reading, I have a strong need to learn more about the fighters, resisters, and vindicators. I think that's the only way to find one's way out of the place to which deep exposure to the Holocaust's horrific events can take one. So I'm about to read several other books about uprisings, escapes, and resistance, including what happened at Treblinka. Also, for anyone who reads this & who can relate, I want to share that, years ago, I saw the film Weapons of the Spirit, which is about a French village of devout Huguenot Christians who saved 5,000 Jews. That documentary brought me to tears, & has helped bolster my faith in a higher form of goodness. In case you're interested, it's on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Weapons-Spirit-VHS-Pierre-Sauvage/dp/0967651204 - and there's a website.