by Navina Michal Clemerson
Nuremberg, the city where huge Nazi parades were held, with 150,000 screaming supporters of Hitler, extra-large swastikas covering the specially built stands, martial music blaring from loudspeakers, seemingly endless lines of goose-stepping SS soldiers. The site of the 1936 Olympic games which were intended to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race.
Nuremberg the city home to a thriving Jewish community, with businesses, schools, and synagogues all with decades of history as an integral part of German society. Doctors, lawyers, judges, scientists, all pillars supporting Germany. The community centred around the synagogue.
This novel tells the story of the Mannheim family of Nuremberg – Walter, a successful lawyer, last in a long line of lawyers and judges, his wife Sonia, their two children Max and Helena – as the settled, comfortable world in which they lived explodes into violent antisemitism. Forced to give up their silverware and jewellery, the synagogue seized and torn down, their very home appropriated by the Nazi state. Gradually their civil rights were taken from them, children were ignored at school, and forbidden to enter university. Most shops forbade Jews to enter them, Jews had to carry special ID cards, their passports had a red stamp proclaiming the holder to be a Jew.
The Night of Broken Glass or Kristallnach, when many Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed and the streets littered with broken glass, shocked thousands of Jewish families into selling their homes and businesses and leaving Germany permanently.
Walter refused to go, as he felt he had a duty to stay and offer legal help to Jewish people arrested. What drove him to change his mind, and the struggles the family faced then, is the heart of the book, so I will not spoil the story by telling more.
I was impressed by the wealth of detail about German life between the wars, and the tenacity of the Jewish community, supporting each other during this awful time. Contrast this with the rest of the German people who were swayed by the fierce oratory and frenzied nationalism offered by Adolf Hitler. Hitler, of course, blamed all of the problems suffered by Germany on the Jews, and his propaganda actively encouraged their persecution. I wonder what effect the propaganda would have had on me, and this book makes me examine the news and social media much more closely.
The book is written in an almost formal style which is a reflection of the age in which it was set, but it seemed to hinder the flow of a good story. Do not let this minor criticism deter anyone from reading what is an excellent book. I fully recommend it.
Author: Navina Michal Clemerson
Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers
ISBN: 9789493231542 paperback
Available: NZ from independent booksellers. Also available on Amazon as paperback; hardcover ISBN 978-9493276277; ebook ASIN B0B4DX13QW