April 23, 2012
The Silesian town of Bedzin lies a mere twenty-five miles from Auschwitz; through the linked ghettos of Bedzin and its neighbouring town Sosnowiec, some 85,000 Jews were sent to the gas chambers. The principal civilian administrator of Bedzin, Udo Klausa, was responsible for implementing Nazi policies of stigmatization and ghettoisation in this area. Yet he later claimed, like so many Germans after the war, that he had known nothing about the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Using a wealth of personal letters, memoirs, testimonies, interviews and archival sources, Mary Fulbrook pieces together Klausa’s role in the unfolding degradation of the Jews. Exploring different sides of the story, Fulbrook depicts the struggles for survival and heroic attempts at resistance by Jews, and demonstrates the murderous consequences of everyday racism, revealing how the Holocaust was facilitated by the actions of ordinary civilian functionaries. But this account is no ordinary historical reconstruction. For Klausa’s wife was a close school friend of Fulbrook’s own mother, who was a refugee from Nazi Germany. Fulbrook had no inkling of Klausa’s true role in the Third Reich until a few years ago, a discovery that shocked her deeply and led directly to this inescapably personal professional history.