The first two parts of this meditation on the Holocaust are non-fiction, and the third part is fiction.
While giving testimony to Claude Lanzmann for his film, Shoah, Jan Karski, a member of the Polish resistance, sobs. He has so much to remember. After escaping from a Soviet detention camp in 1930, Karski served as a courier for the Polish underground, carrying information from occupied Poland to the exiled Polish leaders. Captured and tortured by the Germans, he managed to escape and was instructed to tell the governments of the world what was being done to the Jews.
Part II is a description of Karski’s book, Story of a Secret State (1944), where he cries out that “a messenger cannot deliver a message without a receiver.” Karski obtained private audiences with world leaders and top officials in England and the United States, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he soon found out that although he had carried out his mission, his message fell on deaf ears. Where was the world’s conscience? Did it ever exist?
In Part III, the author enters the story, luring us to “dissolve the barriers between message and messenger, between that time and this time.” He asks, what have we learned? And then he goes on to tell us what we should have learned. The most powerful piece of the book for this reader is when Haenel argues that the extermination of the Jews of Europe was not a crime against humanity, but that the entirety of humanity was implicated in this crime, and the Nuremberg trials were not just to prove the Nazis’ guilt but were held in order to acquit the Allies.
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