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Pulitzer Prize-winning book marks Kristallnacht anniversary

07 November 2014 / 15:11:22  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Kristallnacht was the night of 9 November 1938 that marked the beginning of the mass pogrom against Jews in Germany and Austria. Its name is associated with the destruction of 7,500 Jewish shops the windows of which were smashed as a token of hatred and contempt by members of the Nazi groups. Statistics even show that 267 synagogues were destroyed, 91 Jews were killed and tens of thousands of others committed suicide, were deported and sent to concentration camps.

This year marks 76 years since the tragic night, which was more or less foretold by an event that had happened in Paris two days earlier. On 7 November 1938, a Jew from Austria opened fire at the Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris. He died two days later but the silence on the part of Hitler in connection with the assault is perceived by modern historians as evidence that the plan for the extermination of Jews had already been prepared.

The Jewish community in Athens chose the anniversary of the events that marked the beginning of the pogrom to present the Greek edition of the two-volume work by historian Saul Fridlender entitled "Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939 - 1945". In it, he tells the story of the Holocaust, not only from the side view of a historian, but also from his personal experience. Although he was a child at the time of the events, he survived but he lost his parents. According to many researchers, the way in which Fridlender conducted the research and described the events shows that he is actually trying to answer the question as to why they were killed and whether they could have avoided this fate.

The historian was born in Prague in 1932 and named Paul Fridlender. When World War II broke out his parents decided to move to Paris. When the Germans invaded France, they baptized little Paul and hid him in a Catholic school, and then tried to escape to Switzerland. Their attempt failed, as they were captured, deported and subsequently murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp, while their son remained at the Catholic school until the end of the occupation. He was placed in a foster family of Russian Jews in Paris and later he learnt that he was Jewish and accepted Zionism. He subsequently graduated from the Institute of Political Science in Paris and worked on his doctoral thesis at the Institute of International Relations in Geneva, where he taught until 1988. He was also a lecturer at the universities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and from 1988, he was elected a professor of history at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

In 2008, Saul Fridlender was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. A year earlier, he had released the second volume of the book, ten whole years before the release of the first volume, whereas he had started his research as early as the 1980s.

"The work by Fridlender is a whole new approach to the presentation of the historical events related to the Holocaust and in general. Besides data from official sources such as archives and documents, he includes narrative testimonies of people who have survived the events," medieval history professor at the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology at the University of Thessaly Rica Benveniste said during the presentation.

"In the first volume Fridlender presents the surprise on the part of Jews, the almost complete lack of ways to counteract the events, and the silence of the rest of society. The story ends in 1939 when Jews try to stick to what they have left. In the second volume, he uses diaries that were seized to be kept when their authors were deported, letters showing that even after they were aware of what was happening, they continued to hope that things might change. At the same time, Fridlender applies letters by German soldiers in which they openly admit to their loved ones how many people they had killed, which clarifies the scale of the tragedy," she added.

Benveniste and other participants in the presentation indicated that the release of the book by Fridlender in the Greek language is very timely, in view of the anti-Semitic attitudes in the country, which for several years have had their parliamentary representation too. Indicative is the fact that less than 10 days ago, previously unknown vandals desecrated the Holocaust Memorial in Athens.

According to Rica Benveniste, the research on the fate of Jews during World War II will continue for a long time in the future, especially with regard to those in Eastern Europe.

"The opening of the archives of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries has launched new research on Jews in this part of the continent. From there, each country has its own peculiarities. The most typical example is France, where only the study of an American researcher has revealed the French Vichy Regime and its anti-Semitic policy. In the Balkans, some things were done very soon after the events, while others were not. For example, the discussion on the rescue of Bulgarian Jews started again in Bulgaria a few years ago whereas the Greek Jews who were in the zone controlled by Bulgaria were not saved."

Her book, "Survivors. Deportation, Resistance, Return. Salonika Jews in the 1940s" in which Benveniste intertwines historical events with personal stories of people, inspired by the work by Saul Fridlender, will be released soon.

Tags: HistoryHolocaustBookSaul FridlenderKristallnachtPogromJewish community in Athens
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