<preform>What We Knew, by Eric Johnson & Karl-Heinz Reuband</preform>

Voices of guilt and remembrance
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The Independent Culture

This book is a selection of interviews about "terror, mass murder and everyday life" in the Third Reich, conducted with those on both sides of the Nazi-Jewish divide. It makes for fascinating reading. Although we are bombarded by wartime experiences, the personal details add another fragment to the mosaic which we call Holocaust.

This book is a selection of interviews about "terror, mass murder and everyday life" in the Third Reich, conducted with those on both sides of the Nazi-Jewish divide. It makes for fascinating reading. Although we are bombarded by wartime experiences, the personal details add another fragment to the mosaic which we call Holocaust.

The strength of What We Knew is its diversity. The accumulation of memories of Kristallnacht and deportation, as experienced by victims and onlookers, helps to construct the bigger picture. Themes recur, such as the admission that the Germans knew what was happening to the Jews, and that their persecution was an easy way of stealing their possessions. But it is the vivid detail, such as chips of bone in the Auschwitz air, which really shock.

The study, originally targeting 3,000 Germans and 500 German Jews, began in 1994 when interviewers sent questionnaires to men and women in the US and Germany. However, Johnson and Reuband have edited the material into a homogeneous American-English which bleaches out the individual colour and rhythm of the voice. This makes the interviews rather hard to read with any continuity.

Surprisingly, it is not the content which alienates, rather the editorial style. As well as the over-editing, I spotted an error in the memory of Hermann Gottfried, who talks of being interned here and so missing the fateful journey of the "Andover Star". The unfortunate ship was the Arandora Star; this mistake made me wonder how much checking had been done.

Yet there are extraordinary memories here, such as Adam Grolsch witnessing the murder of thousands of Jews in Pinsk, a testimony which mirrors that in the Nuremberg Trials. There is Hiltrud Kuehnel's time as a dental student, when she was given the skulls of Jews to examine - skulls that had been personally chosen by her professor, who then had their owners murdered. Kuehnel notes that when the professor spoke of what he had done, his students applauded.

This work has much to commend it: particularly in its exposure of how much common knowledge the German population had about the deportations and murders of Jews. It also highlights how universally the Jews were hated, and how little enthusiasm the UK and US had for Jewish emigration between l933 and l939.

Most potently, What We Knew offers a vision of a Germany delighted by Hitler's new regime, which offered employment, the annihilation of the Jews and military domination. I only wish the authors had allowed the peculiarities of individual speech into the interviews, which would have broadened the appeal of this research.

The reviewer's 'Holocaust Trilogy' is published by Oberon Books

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