Land­scapes of the Metrop­o­lis of Death: Reflec­tions on Mem­o­ry and Imagination

Otto Dov Kul­ka; Ralph Man­del, trans.
  • Review
By – August 2, 2013

Otto Dov Kul­ka, a dis­tin­guished Holo­caust schol­ar, presents here his own experi­ences as a sur­vivor of There­sien­stadt and Auschwitz. In a vivid mem­oir that is at times aching­ly beau­ti­ful, he recounts hor­ror and death. The voice of the young Kul­ka pro­vides emo­tion­al dis­tance, enabling the read­er to appre­ci­ate his lyri­cal prose and even the haunt­ing photographs.

In 1978, while in Poland for a con­fer­ence, he jour­neyed (returned) to Birke­nau. Lat­er, fifty years after the War, he began revis­it­ing sites and record­ing his mem­o­ries and impres­sions. When he was eleven, he had been part of the mod­el fam­i­ly camp,” men, women and chil­dren liv­ing togeth­er, designed to show the Red Cross how humane the camps were, as if to say, There’s no death here, only cul­ture, stud­ies, ordi­nary, every­day liv­ing.” One of the songs he learned was Ode to Joy.” Short­ly af­terwards, some­one tried to explain to him, “… the ter­ri­ble absur­di­ty of it, the ter­ri­ble won­der of it, that a song of praise to the broth­er­hood of man, Shiller’s Ode to Joy,’ from Beethoven’s Ninth Sym­pho­ny, was being played oppo­site the crematoria…”

The first chapter’s title, A Pro­logue that Could Also Be an Epi­logue,” gives the book a cir­cu­lar feel­ing. Per­haps the author was able to come to terms with what hap­pened. Or per­haps he is try­ing to say that those who do not under­stand the lessons of his­to­ry… .” Mono­logues like Land­scapes of the Metrop­o­lis of Death can sup­ple­ment Kulka’s and oth­ers’ his­tor­i­cal texts, and affirm, Nev­er Again.’ Appen­dices, illus­tra­tions, notes.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

Discussion Questions