Friday, July 6, 2018

THE BOY A Holocaust Story (Hill and Wang / Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

                            THE BOY by Dan Porat

A moving scholarly detective story that hinges on an iconic photograph from the Holocaust.

Porat (Holocaust Studies/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) writes that “it is the responsibility of a historian to narrate photographs with analytic rigor, even while retaining, and indeed deepening, their immediacy and meaning.” He succeeds admirably in his critical evaluation of the photograph, taken during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, which depicts an eight-year-old boy, hands raised, his face a study in fear and terror. To his right, a young woman, hands also raised and apparently at the head of a column of prisoners, looks at him with concern, while behind him, a Nazi soldier keeps a rifle at the ready. In an exemplary campaign of research, the author doggedly pursues their stories, as well as those of the man behind the camera and the official who ordered that these images be made. The last was a Nazi SS officer named Josef Stroop, once an aimless World War I veteran, then a Nazi true believer, who kept a careful, ornately bound chronicle of his actions on the Eastern Front. Even Nazi leader Alfred Jodl condemned the excess: “The dirty arrogant SS swine! Imagine writing a 75-page boastful report on a little murder expedition, when a major campaign fought by soldiers against a well-armed enemy takes only a few pages!” The photographer also found his calling in the SS, as did the guard with the rifle, a sad sack who was initially appalled at the work of the death squads but soon shed his scruples. Each of the Nazis was executed in the years following the armistice, and only a few of the Jewish figures survived the war, which they carried with them forever.

A remarkable work and an essential document in the vast library devoted to the Shoah.

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