Novel on nazi Germany published

Polish Jewish deportees expelled from Germany on October 27-28, 1938, in Zbąszyń © Yad Vashem Photo Archives

By Clara Weiss in Germany:

“Life is forbidden to us … do you want to comply with that?”: The rediscovery of Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz’s The Traveler in Germany

Der Reisende, by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, edited by Peter Grad. Klett-Cotta 2018. 303 pages. All translations from the German are by the reviewer.

In early 2018, the German publisher Klett-Cotta released, for the first time in the original German, The Traveler (Der Reisende), by the writer Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (1915-1942), who was driven into exile by the Hitler regime.

The novel was written over the course of a few weeks in November 1938. It is a remarkable literary work treating the situation in Nazi Germany in the wake of the so-called Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), the murderous anti-Semitic pogrom of November 9-10, 1938. The book resonates powerfully today amid a global refugee crisis and resurgence of far-right forces.

The protagonist of The Traveler is Otto Silbermann, a German-Jewish businessman who fought in World War I. Like an entire layer of German Jews who had been thoroughly assimilated culturally and formed part of the country’s middle or upper class, Silbermann identifies entirely as a German. His existence is shattered by Kristallnacht.

The two-week period October 27 to November 9-10 marked a watershed in the escalation of Nazi anti-Jewish policies. On October 27-29, the Nazis undertook the first mass deportation of Jews from Germany. Some 17,000 Jews with Polish citizenship were rounded up by the authorities and sent to Poland where the right-wing Sanacja (Sanation, or act of healing) regime denied them entry. Thousands remained stranded in the border town of Zbąszyń until the late summer of 1939.

The parents of Herschel Grynszpan were among the deported. Driven to despair, Grynszpan shot and killed [a German diplomat] in Paris. The assassination served the Nazis as pretext for a long-planned, state-organized pogrom in the German Reich, which by now also encompassed recently annexed Austria. About 1,500 people were murdered on Kristallnacht, countless businesses and apartments smashed up, 1,400 synagogues destroyed and some 30,000 Jewish men incarcerated in concentration camps.

A destroyed synagogue in Berlin after the pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, © Yad Vashem Photo Archives

Both the deportation, known as the “Polenaktion” (Polish Action), and the subsequent pogrom were widely reported in the international press. Bourgeois governments across Europe and internationally responded by drastically tightening their immigration policies, largely blocking entry to political refugees and Jews fleeing Germany. Hundreds of thousands of Jews thus remained trapped in Nazi Germany.

Otto Silbermann, the protagonist in The Traveler, is one of them. Following Kristallnacht, he is forced to leave his business behind. He hands over the bulk of his shares to his former partner, a member of the Nazi party, whom he had hitherto considered a friend and who now shamelessly uses the opportunity to cheat Silbermann out of the business he had built. His apartment is destroyed during the pogrom and his wife, who is not Jewish, goes to stay with her brother who refuses to take in Silbermann for fear of being “compromised.” Most of his friends and relatives are in concentration camps. His son, Eduard, studies in Paris and tries to get visas for his parents, but to no avail.

Cover of the German edition of Der Reisende

Silbermann reflects: “It is strange…Ten minutes ago my house, a part of my fortune were at stake. Now my bones are at stake. How fast it goes. War has just been declared on me, on me personally. This is it. A moment ago war was really declared on me, conclusively, and now I am alone, on enemy territory.” With the remains of his fortune stuffed in a briefcase, Silbermann takes train after train across Germany, desperately trying to find a way to cross the frontier.

Silbermann has lost all his rights as a citizen and feels powerless, as the entire state machinery is being deployed in order to crush him. He is, as he puts it in one scene, “vogelfrei”, outlawed, and at the mercy of the arbitrary violence and treachery of anyone he meets. He is haunted by the fear that a fellow passenger will discover he is Jewish and betray him to the police. Finally, Silbermann attempts to cross the Belgian border, but he is captured by Belgian border guards who want to send him back. Silbermann protests:

“But I am a refugee – I am a Jew. They wanted to arrest me. They will incarcerate me in a concentration camp.”

“We cannot let you through. Come on!” …

“I am staying here! You do not have the right, you cannot do this! I am in a free country, after all!”

“You have crossed the border illegally.”

“But I had to. I was persecuted.”

“Not everyone can come to Belgium!”

“But I have papers. I have money … It is not my fault that I had to cross the border illegally. I am being persecuted.”

“That is not Belgium’s fault. We are sorry …”

“I cannot go back. It’s impossible.”

“Mais oui, mon ami, it is very well possible.”

Silbermann is sent back and again takes train after train in Germany.

Boschwitz, who was just 23 years old when he wrote the novel, describes the climate and portrays the moods in Nazi Germany with such admirable clarity, seriousness and psychological acumen that the book’s underlying anger emerges all the more forcefully.

Many scenes, especially those depicting Silbermann’s interactions with his fellow train passengers, are informed by an acute awareness of class and political tensions in Nazi Germany.

We meet a wide variety of characters—a Jewish artisan who like Silbermann is trying to escape, but is unable to finance his flight; a young woman who can’t marry because she and her fiancé don’t have enough money and can’t take out a loan—he was just released from a concentration camp; convinced Nazis and shameless opportunists who exploit the situation to enrich and advance themselves on the basis of the misery and over the bodies of the persecuted; and others who are casually indifferent to the fate of the Jews. It is a society in which the fear of denunciation and the concentration camp is omnipresent. Everyone expects a new war. The atmosphere is unrelievedly tense and cold.

The Traveler gives an inkling of what a major novel of Nazi society, a Gesellschaftsroman [social novel], might have looked like. There is no comprehensive artistic picture of German life during Nazi rule comparable to that provided by the major novels written under the Empire or the Weimar Republic. Literary documents from the period in general are understandably rare.

From the point of view of its character as literary testimony, The Traveler has been legitimately compared to the diaries of Victor Klemperer (published for the first time in the 1990s), a German-Jewish linguist who survived in Nazi Germany with the help of his non-Jewish wife and who meticulously documented his everyday experiences.

Boschwitz’s own short life tragically reflected the fate of the refugees he was describing in his novel. Born in 1915 to an affluent family, he was one of the many German Jews who felt no connection to Judaism or Jewish culture until they were branded and persecuted by the Nazi regime. He never met his father, who was German-Jewish but had converted to Catholicism and died in World War in 1916. His mother, from a prominent Protestant family in Lübeck, raised him and his sister in the latter faith.

Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, © Leo Baeck Institute

Following the Nazis’ rise to power, his sister became a Zionist and left for Palestine. Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz and his mother stayed in Germany until 1935. They first fled to Scandinavia, where the young man had his first novel Menschen neben dem Leben (People Next to Life) published in Swedish under the pen name John Grane. The success of the book made it possible for him to study two semesters at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Boschwitz wrote The Traveler, his second novel, in Brussels in only four weeks following the November 9-10 pogrom. By the beginning of the Second World War, on September 1, 1939, he and his mother had emigrated to Britain. Here they were arrested on June 9, 1940 and held at the notorious Isle of Man internment camp, as were thousands of German Jewish refugees.

While his mother remained at the camp, Boschwitz was deported within two weeks by the British government as a potential enemy agent and subjected to the notorious 57-day voyage to Australia of the HMT Dunera. The conditions on the vessel were calamitous. With some 2,500 refugees—mostly anti-Nazi Jewish refugees—on board, the ship was horribly overcrowded and the British guards robbed and abused the passengers. One of Boschwitz’s manuscripts, Das grosse Fressen (The Great Guzzling), was apparently lost to this pillaging. Boschwitz then spent some two years in Australian internment camps. He was released in 1942 along with other prisoners who declared their readiness to fight in the British army.

Along with almost 400 passengers, he embarked on the MV Abosso back to England. It was torpedoed on October 29, 1942 by a German U-boat. Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, aged just 27, was among the 362 passengers who were killed. It is believed that a second version of The Traveler, which he considered his best work, as well as the manuscript for another novel, sank with him.

The Traveler has been published before but never in German. It was first published in English as The Man Who Took Trains in Great Britain in 1939 and as The Fugitive in the US in 1940. In the 1940s, a French-language version (Le fugitif) was also published. All the translated versions are credited to John Grane.

German publishers rejected the novel twice. In the 1950s, the renowned Fischer Verlag rejected it. In the 1960s, German novelist Heinrich Böll, then one of the most influential writers and public intellectuals in West Germany, tried to have it released by Middelhauve Verlag, but that firm too rejected it. (Raoul Hilberg’s monumental history of the Destruction of European Jewry, written in the US in the late 1940s and early 1950s, met with a similar fate at the hands of German publishers in the 1950s and 1960s).

That this extraordinary novel has been rediscovered and published in German after some eight decades is largely due to the efforts of editor and publisher Peter Graf. One of Boschwitz’s relatives living in Israel approached Graf after reading about his efforts to reissue the novel Blutsbrüder by Ernst Haffner (published as Blood Brothers in English in 2015). That novel, about two homeless youth in the Berlin of the early 1930s, became an immediate bestseller in Germany after its republication and is now considered one of the great novels of the Weimar Republic era. Graf carefully worked on the first German publication of The Traveler, based on correspondence and other documents by Boschwitz that belong to the collection at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York.

The novel has met with great success in Germany, obviously having struck a deep chord. It was reviewed by all the major newspapers, and numerous readings in German cities and towns have been organized. The German publication of Boschwitz’s first novel is planned for 2019. A new French translation of The Traveler is also being prepared. One hopes that The Traveler will be published in many other languages as well. Though written 80 years ago, it is not just a remarkable literary document about the Nazi period, but speaks immediately to the major political and historical questions of our time.


Trump’s lawyer differs from Trump administration on persecuting whistleblowers

This 1 January 2019 video from the USA is called Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s Lawyer, Says Julian Assange Should NOT Be Prosecuted.

This blog has noted before that United States President Trump is a broken clock. Wrong nearly all of the time, but right two small moments a day. Like his sometimes rival, sometimes friend, Turkish President Erdogan, a dictator and a warmonger, is right at some small moments.

Trump and Erdogan are not the only two ‘broken clock’ politicians. Take United States President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder deserves lots of criticism for not doing enough to stop police brutality, for undermining civil liberties while persecuting whistleblowers, etc. However, when he was no longer Attorney General, he admitted that the whistleblower on the NSA attacks on liberties, Eric Snowden, was right.

Now, after Obama, another president, Donald Trump. And another broken clock politician, Rudy Giuliani, on civil liberties and on another whistleblower: Julian Assange. Giuliani is notTrump’s Attorney General, but his lawyer. Interestingly, on Assange, Trump’s lawyer differs from the Trump administration on persecuting whistleblowers, threatening media freedom.

By James Cogan in the USA:

Silence follows Trump attorney’s statement that Julian Assange did nothing “wrong”

4 January 2019

During a December 30 interview on the US cable television talk show “Fox and Friends,” Rudy Giuliani, the right-wing Republican former mayor of New York and now attorney for President Donald Trump, blurted out some basic truths about WikiLeaks and its founder and publisher, Julian Assange.

Giuliani said: “Let’s take the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers were stolen property, weren’t they? It was in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Nobody went to jail at the New York Times and the Washington Post.”

Giuliani was referring to the 1971 publication of a mass of leaked documents that exposed decades of lies and crimes committed by successive American governments throughout the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration went to the US Supreme Court to outlaw the publication but the court ruled that the US Constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech, protected the media outlets.

Once leaked information was provided to a “media publication”, Giuliani stated, “they can publish it for the purpose of informing people.”

He continued: “You can’t put Assange in a different position. He was a guy who communicated. We may not like what he communicated, but he was a media facility. He was putting that information out. Every newspaper and station grabbed it and published it.”

Giuliani was discussing, not the 2010 leaks published by WikiLeaks exposing US war crimes and diplomatic intrigues, but the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Lurid and absurd allegations have been made that WikiLeaks was part of a nefarious conspiracy with Russia to assist the Trump campaign.

In July 2016, WikiLeaks published leaked emails revealing that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had sought to undermine self-styled “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders and ensure that Hillary Clinton was nominated as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

In October 2016, WikiLeaks published leaked emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, which included transcripts of speeches Clinton had given to corporate audiences during which she pledged support to Wall Street and boasted of her role in organising the murderous US-led war on Libya in 2011.

WikiLeaks has denied that Russia was the source of the leaks and, in November 2016, Assange correctly defended its decision to publish them in the public interest.

Giuliani categorically denied there was ever any relationship or contact between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. He stated on “Fox and Friends”: “I was with Donald Trump day in and day out throughout the last four months of the campaign. He was as surprised as I was about the WikiLeaks disclosures, sometimes surprised to the extent of ‘oh my God, did they really say that?’ We were wondering if it was true or not. They never denied it.

“The thing that really got Hillary is not so much that they were revealed, but that they were true… She really did completely screw Bernie Sanders. Every bit of that was absolutely true. Just like the Pentagon Papers put a different view on Vietnam, this put a different view on Hillary Clinton.”

He continued: “No press person or person disseminating that, for the purpose of informing, did anything wrong.”

Nothing Giuliani said is new or can be honestly disputed. Assange is a journalist and editor. WikiLeaks is a media organisation. When it was entrusted by whistleblowers with leaked information, WikiLeaks published it “for the purpose of informing people.” Assange has committed no crime. The attempts under Obama’s administration and now Trump’s to have him extradited to the US to stand trial on charges of espionage or conspiracy constitute a fundamental attack on freedom of speech and an independent and critical media.

Since 2010, when the American state apparatus launched its vendetta, every genuine defender of democratic rights has been obliged, as a matter of political principle, to stand behind Assange and WikiLeaks, and the fight for his unconditional protection from US-led persecution.

Indeed, from this standpoint, the most noteworthy aspect of Giuliani’s statements is that they were made by a ruthless representative of the American financial and corporate elite, and on Fox News, the station that in 2010 broadcast calls for Assange

and for Chelsea Manning, WikLeaks’ source for the Iraq war revelations

to be assassinated.

Giuliani, a fervent supporter of Trump’s fascistic “America First” agenda of war with China and the destruction of workers’ rights and civil liberties in the US itself, does not have the slightest concern for freedom of speech or democracy. His only motive in telling the truth about Assange and WikiLeaks is to rebut the claims circulating around the Mueller investigation and the possible use of accusations of collusion with Russia to impeach the president and replace him with Vice President Mike Pence.

A wing of the American ruling class, represented by the Democratic Party, factions of the Republican Party and sections of the military-intelligence apparatus, are outraged by Trump’s seeming lack of concern with confronting Russia. Even before he was inaugurated, that wing of the establishment demanded that Trump escalate a confrontational policy against Moscow, from the standpoint that conflict with China could be best pursued if Beijing were denied any ability to seek assistance from Russia. They believe Pence, a Christian fundamentalist and extreme right-wing ideologue, would be a more malleable figure than the erratic and unstable billionaire real estate speculator.

On a world scale, the allegations of Russian “interference” have been used as the pretext for a massive campaign of censorship, directed by companies such as Google and Facebook against, above all, left-wing, anti-imperialist and anti-war websites and social media postings.

The American state apparatus also has used them to bully the Ecuadorian government, which in 2012 provided Assange with asylum in its London embassy, to turn against the WikiLeaks publisher. In April 2017, Mike Pompeo, then CIA director and now Trump’s secretary of state, declared—after WikiLeaks published the explosive “Vault 7” leaks exposing criminal CIA operations—that the media organisation would be treated as a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors such as Russia.”

In March 2018, on the dictates of Washington, Ecuador cut off Assange’s right to communicate with the outside world and has taken other punitive measures to try and pressure him to leave the embassy and hand himself over to British police to face imprisonment and extradition to the US.

Predictably, not a word about Giuliani’s statements has been said by the political and media establishment in the US, Europe or Australia.

The silence in Australia is of particular significance. Assange is an Australian citizen. In the face of persecution by the governments of other states, he has always been entitled to, but denied, the full diplomatic, legal and political support of the Australian government.

The categorical statement by a figure as repellent as Giuliani, that there are no grounds to prosecute Assange, serves only to expose the perfidy of the current Liberal-National Party Coalition government, … as well as the media … . Their refusal to defend Assange testifies to the utter rot of democracy in the country.

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in Australia announced last month that it will organise and seek the broadest support for political demonstrations in Sydney on March 3 and Melbourne on March 10.

The rallies will demand that the Australian government end its collaboration with the US-led persecution of Assange and immediately intervene, using the full scope of its diplomatic and legal powers, to insist that the British government allow the WikiLeaks publisher to leave the Ecuadorian embassy and unconditionally return to Australia, if he chooses to do so. Assange must be given a blanket guarantee that any request by the Trump administration to extradite him from Australia to the US would be rejected out of hand.