Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Into That Darkness" by Gitta Sereny


This is another book that I read some time ago but wanted to share with you. This was a recommendation by Robert's company's chairman, Dick Shura, who told me this book would change my life. And he was right.
Sereny is a reporter who spent over 70 hours of interview time with Franz Stangl, the Kommandant of Treblinka, the largest death camp in WWII. At the time of the interviews, Stangl was in his 60s and awaiting an appeal to his death sentence in prison. Sereny's agenda was not what you would think. She was not after horror stories. She posed to Stangl a question that has haunted every human being since the Holocaust...how does a smart, upstanding citizen, a husband, a father, justify what he has done? How did he rationalize his actions so that he could sleep at night? She digs deep, asking very tough, perceptive questions. But she doesn't take his answers at face value. She follows up and cross-checks nearly every statement Stangl makes (it started to wear me out thinking about the exhaustive research this woman did!). She spoke with Stangl's wife, his friends, survivors of the camp, other officers of the Third Reich. If stories didn't match up, she went after it like a dog with a bone.
There is a point in the book when it all starts to become clear. Even now, my heart is starting to race thinking about it. How the extermination of millions all started so small, with euthanizing invalids, and the rationalization by even priests that is was the humane thing to do. The list expanded to the mentally ill, and with the loose definition of what constituted "mentally ill", the list expanded further to include homosexuals, people with various diseases, and anyone else that just happened to piss off those in charge. Through the justification of each tiny step, and ultimately through the fear of ending up on the list, so many people like you and me stepped aside and let it all happen.
Ultimately, this book is about an examination of conscience...for Stangl, for everyone involved, and even ourselves. Would you and I have reacted any differently, had we witnessed these events? What is the value of a life? Are some worth more than others? These are not pleasant ponderings, and this book is not for the faint of heart. It is not an easy book to read, but I think every person on this earth should be required to read it.

1 comment:

farmlanebooks said...

I can see that this is a really important and powerful book, so I've added it to my wish list, but I think it might be a bit too disturbing for me.