The Mes­sen­ger

Yan­nick Haenel; Ian Monk, trans.
  • Review
By – June 14, 2012

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. 

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

Discussion Questions