Book Note: A Small Town Near Auschwitz
Mary Fulbrook is the daughter of a German Christian woman “of Jewish descent” who fled to the United States shortly after the Nazis took power. One of her mother’s closest girlhood friends was Alexandra, who married Udo Klausa. Klausa was the Landrat, or administrator, of a small city in occupied Upper Silesia named Bedzin. After WWII, Mary’s mother and Alexandra resumed their friendship and Alexandra became Mary’s godmother. Thus, Mary was acquainted with Udo Klausa, who is the central figure of A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust (published in 2012 by Oxford University Press).
|A Small Town Near Auschwitz- Wiki Commons|
Fulbrook also shows us how “innocent” bystander Germans were collaborators. Alexandra Klausa held no official position: she was merely the wife of the Landrat, happy to have found reasonable accommodation for herself, her husband and their baby in the villa of a deported Jew. Alexandra’s letters show that she witnessed roundups of Jews, which occurred just across the street from where she lived. She wrote to her mother about some of the inconveniences of the roundups: she couldn’t get her shoes repaired any more, and the vegetable market had closed down. She and Udo tried unsuccessfully to protect “their” Jew—their gardener and janitor—and his family. Granted, letters were censored and it would have been difficult for her to write her mother about the horrors she witnessed. Yet she seemed indifferent to them, as long as they did not affect her day-to-day life as a wife and mother. She did worry a lot about Udo’s “nerves” which in a charitable interpretation of his reactions to the persecution of the Jews might have indicated that he was uneasy about certain activities in which he was implicated. After the war, Klausa evaded punishment—eventually becoming a Landrat again in democratic West Germany—and wrote a memoir in which he claimed that he was not present in Bedzin for some of the worst “actions” against the Jews. But Fulbrook shows that he was.
|Eichmann in Jerusalem- Wiki Commons|
|Ordinary Men- Wiki Commons|
In some senses, we are all collaborators. Most of us go about our daily lives perhaps conscious of injustices and suffering, both at home and abroad, but unwilling to devote more than a few hours a week or a small percentage of our resources to trying to alleviate it. Fulbrook writes of Alexandra and Udo Klausa that they “acted in ways that were predicated on ‘not seeing’ how people were affected, ‘not knowing’ what the outcomes of their actions really were” (p. 8). But even if we do see and we do know, it is usually easier to put what we see and know aside. This is what the Klausas did, and what almost all of us do.