Ride to oblivion

In 1941, the 9,500 Jews of Belgrade were required to register with the German occupation authority and don yellow armbands; they were then placed in a camp on the outskirts of the city.

By MEIR RONNEN
March 2, 2006 09:44
2 minute read.
chotvweitbook 88 298

chotvweitbook 88 298. (photo credit: )

 
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Gotz and Meyer By David Albahari Harcourt Books 176pp. $23 Daniel Half Human By David Chotjewitz Athenaeum Books for Young Readers 298pp., $17.95 In 1941, the 9,500 Jews of Belgrade were required to register with the German occupation authority and don yellow armbands; they were then placed in a camp on the outskirts of the city. Within a short time, most of the men were taken away and shot. The women, children and elderly men, led to believe they were being transported to a better place where they would find their relatives, were day by day driven away in a huge truck in which they were gassed. The narrator of Serbian author David Albahari's searing novel about the fate of Serbia's Jews is a Belgrade Jewish teacher obsessed with learning all he can about what happened to his relatives. He conjures up the eponymous Gotz and Meyer, the simple but quietly efficient SS noncoms who, after giving sweets to the children, operate the death vehicle. Soon, the SS pair become so real that they begin to take over his life. This sardonic novella is written in a relentless stream of consciousness manner that began with James Joyce and seemingly ended with W. G. Sebald, but this stylistic masterpiece, superbly translated from Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac, outdoes the late German author. Eventually, the narrator takes his students on a bus ride that duplicates the journey of the death truck through Belgrade. Like the reader, the students are at first bewildered, then shocked and revolted by the recreation of an unsuspected past. Albahari was formerly the editor of a literary magazine in Belgrade, but for the past decade has lived in Calgary, Canada. PART ARYANS were treated in a variety of ways by Hitler's Third Reich. Most were sent to concentration camps; others were enlisted in the Wehrmacht. A few who had been career officers retained their commissions and were granted Aryan status on a list signed by Hitler himself; several died fighting for Hitler in Russia, at the very same time as retired German-Jewish brigadier-generals and colonels first sent to Theresienstadt were gassed in Auschwitz. David Chotjewitz's novel of a teenage mischling in Hitler's Germany is a bald piece of historical fiction by a Jew permanently resident in today's Germany. Written in short sentences and paragraphs, Daniel Half Human is designed for young readers over 12, and carries you along even when you begin to doubt the details of the relationships between the half-Jew and his friends. The hero is finally reunited with one of his school chums when, as a British army interrogator, he encounters him in a denazification office. The man has a scab where his SS blood type tattoo used to be. This didactic "junior" novel, translated from German by Doris Orgel, has reportedly been well-received in Germany. Daniel Half Human was recently named runner up by the National Jewish Book Awards in the Children's Literature category.

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