The Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Memoirs, edited by Joseph Wechsberg
This book has an interesting niche when it comes to writings about the aftermath of World War II. For a variety of reasons, I tend to reflect often about the problem of anti-Semitism , and this book provides the immensely worthwhile perspective of someone who barely survived World War II and then devoted his postwar life to helping bring the murderers of the SS to justice from his base in Austria. One can understand his passion for justice to the extent that one has survived injustice, and it makes for a rather chilling sort of book where over and over again the author reflects on his growing insight about the behavior of the SS, particularly among the Volksdeutsche outside of Germany who wished to prove themselves as being just as German as native Germans and as a result were often very cruel to prisoners at the concentration camps. The author movingly speaks of the experience of Jews and others (including Gypsies) who suffered at the hands of the Nazis and points a finger at many of Hitler’s willing and eager executioners, pointing out that in the aftermath of WWII and the start of the Cold War that any people around the world had to deal with the corrupting influence of living among unrepentant but hidden murderers.
This book, which is more than 300 pages in length, is organized more or less in an episodic fashion, consisting of a variety of chapters of different length that detail various cases that Simon Wiesenthal was a part of, as well as giving flashbacks to his own experiences and that of others during World War II. Included are a mix of famous cases like that of Eichmann and Mengele and less familiar people including the SS officer who arrested Anne Frank and her family and a half-Jew who went undercover on Wiesenthal’s behalf in the underground postwar neo-Nazi movement. Included among the chapters as well are the moving story of the Jewish boy who lit a prayer candle for himself when he was arrested by the SS because he knew that he was already dead, as well as a version of the thirty six righteous that had been the basis of a novel I had read when I was in college that also, perhaps not coincidentally, dealt with the Holocaust. The author also manages to write without too much bitterness, but with a certain amount of sarcasm, about the way that many people involved in the brutality of Hitler’s Germany were doing business first or engaged in their own quests, and the author even discusses a castle that was a school for mass murder.
There are a lot of people who likely won’t like this book’s perspective, but the author manages to make a compelling memoir out of his efforts to close the door on Hitler’s Germany by facing the truth of the incompleteness of denazification. This is a book that deals with the question of global networks of former Nazis seeking to escape the dragnet of arrest warrants and Nazi hunters and enjoy the company of others of like mind. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that many anti-Semites consider there to be a worldwide network of Jewry intent on controlling the world when this book details an anti-Jewish global network. Perhaps those who are engaged in such transnational networks themselves, and struggle with the creation of codes and secret lines of communication are prone to project upon those they seek to target the same sort of behavior that they do. Those with a guilty conscience are often quick to consider others just like themselves, and this book makes it clear that the author is quite willing to risk danger to help ensure that the horror of the Holocaust never happens again, at least not if he has anything to say or do about it.
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