Book Review of "Memoirs of a Jewish Journalist in Nazi Germany" By Werner L. Schlesinger
It would be no exaggeration to claim that I could not put down Memoirs of a Jewish Journalist in Nazi Germany by Werner L. Schlesinger.
The Holocaust, the evil and barbaric genocide inflicted upon millions of Jews are, of course, undeniable; an indelible stain on our collective consciousness- a permanent record of the consequences of intolerance and irrational hatred.
And of course, we are all too familiar with the horror stories of the concentration camps and the suffering en masse of vast swathes of those of the Jewish faith. But rarely however, are we offered a glimpse into the life of Jews who, carefully and subversively, were attempting to counter their own demonisation under the watchful eye of the Nazi Propaganda machine.
Werner Schlesinger does exactly this- through his lens, the reader is taken into a world of social and political turmoil, intolerance, brutality and an unrelenting climate of fear.
The author opens with a description of Jewish life, his life, before the Nazis came to power. He [Schlesinger] skillfully encapsulates the strong religious and cultural identity of a proud faith, describing their relationships to the synagogue and its spiritual leaders.
The reader is taken through the years that followed 1916, and Schlesinger puts into context the economic and political climate of the era, as seen and experienced through the eyes of a man and boy.
"After 1923 had passed when the world's galloping inflation had made poor billionaires of every one of us, the five golden years of prosperity came upon us."
Life was happy, then the Nazis came to power.
It's difficult to imagine living in a nation where the government of the day is anti you, but harder still to imagine that the rhetoric of hatred against a particular faith is not dressed up in soundbites, but flagrantly practiced in the form of boycotts and brutality against those who dared to even go to work.
The 1st of April, 1933 was one such day. The author describes the events of the Anti- Jewish Boycott, the way in which Jews were removed from any position in public service, from newspaper offices, universities, factories, in fact, any profession.
Indeed, as a young court scribe in training and working without pay at the Berlin Landgericht (court of appeal) Schlesinger calmly yet skillfully guides the reader though his own personal journey, his attempts, which he later describes as foolish, to go to work as usual despite the warnings and the consequences of this decision for him, personally.
The Anti Jewish Boycott marked the end of the author's career in the civil service, but did lead to a new, if not even more dangerous, occupation.
The Ultimate Big Brother.
The remaining chapters breathe life into the experiences of a German Jew during the period when the Nazi agenda was played out to the full. Not just when it came to the loss of social, economic and political standing, but explores the psychological and emotional effects of living as a second class citizen. The author describes the horrific and inescapable attempts of the Nazis to, not only demonize Jews, but also dehumanize them.
"From every newsstand grinned at you the large revolving caricatures of horned Jews, greedy claws, a giant beaked nose, bulging eyes, puffed up lips, a devilish tail defiling an innocent Aryan maiden."
The author's journey takes him to various publications, as only one of three Jewish journalists working in Berlin. Through his writing the reader will encounter censorship, fear, a dogged determination and even a brush with Albert Einstein.
This is a thoughtful and engaging book, recording the life of an active Jewish journalist in Nazi Germany. An absolute must read, not just for those interested in social and political history, but for those who want to understand the effects of hatred and intolerance on its victims.
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