June 21, 2009

SPRINGTIME FOR APPLIED DARWINISM:

1938: Hitler’s Gamble by Giles MacDonogh is a powerful account of the Fuhrer's annus mirabilis (Nigel Jones, 6/21/09, Daily Telegraph)

MacDonogh’s book is a minutely detailed chronicle of how this tragic transformation took place. It is an insider’s account, largely confined to the chancelleries and embassies where the Continent’s fate was decided, and based on the diaries and memoirs of those diplomats and politicians involved. One chapter is devoted to each month of the year, giving a sense of a gradually unfolding doom as Nemesis approaches.

Although MacDonogh’s intention was clearly to give a dispassionate overview of the whole year, culminating in the crucial Munich conference in October when the Western democracies rubber-stamped Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, it is in fact an earlier event in March that dominates the book and gives it its emotional charge: the Anschluss.

An afterword reveals why the author devotes such horrified attention to Hitler’s absorption of Austria. MacDonogh’s maternal grandfather, Felix, was an assimilated Viennese Jew: one of that vibrant, wealthy and creative community that gave the world such talents as Freud, Mahler, Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig. Although his extended family – including several of the author’s lively and lusty great-aunts – managed to make their escape as the Nazi jaws closed around Austria, not all of MacDonogh’s relatives were so lucky. The book’s very last sentence reads bleakly: 'One of my close relatives perished: the painter Rudolf Rapaport abandoned his mentally retarded son when he fled to America. Martin Rapp was gassed at Hartheim in 1944.’

MacDonogh’s account of the Anschluss and its aftermath is a masterpiece of extreme emotion held in check. His level tone as he reels off appalling atrocities and such chilling statistics as the steadily rising suicide rate among Jews trapped in Vienna somehow makes the tragedy of the destruction of a whole community even more telling.


Posted by Orrin Judd at June 21, 2009 7:14 AM
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