Thursday, August 20, 2009

Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny - Guest Review by Sandy Nawrot

Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny
Reviewed by Sandy Nawrot from You've GOTTA read this!

This book was a recommendation by my husband’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.


Sandy from You've GOTTA read this! kindly volunteered to loan me this review, which was originally posted on her blog in November of last year. I couldn't be more grateful to you, Sandy, for filling in for me like this (again)! This is definitely one that I plan to read.

17 comments:

  1. Note to all: This wasn't the easiest book to read, but would undoubtedly earn its place on my list of top 10 reads of all time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! I just read a book about the death camps from the perspective of a man who survived them as a teenager and as I read it I kept wondering how people could be so cruel. We could really get into a big discussion about this topic. This book sounds informative and important, but difficult to read. Thanks for the excellent review.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow. That sounds like a great book! It is amazing and disturbing what people are capable of doing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This does sound like a book that demands to be read despite (because of?) the difficult subject matter. It's easy to think that things like this can't happen and would never happen again, but the way things start out small and then all the sudden seem to be spinning out of control demand that we pay close attention to all the things happening around us. Thanks, Sandy. This one will definitely be finding a place on my wish list.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting perspective. I wonder if he was at all sorry or regretful for what he did or allowed to happen? Guess I will need to read it to find out.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fantastic review, Sandy. This reminds me of a quote I came across in another book recently: no one is a villain to him or herself. I've often wondered how those behind the Holocaust could possibly have convinced themselves that they were in the right, so I'll definitely pick up this book.

    ReplyDelete
  7. At one point in time, as an undergrad, I always envisioned that if I were ever to pursue my doctorate, it would be on this very topic. What does cause normal, rational, upstanding, God-fearing people to turn into such monsters or to turn a blind eye to what was occurring in Germany and Poland during WWII. I am definitely adding this to my TBR pile. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I haven't heard of this one before, but am adding it to my WL now!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, I'd love to read this! Thanks for the great review, Sandy!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sandy,
    That was a powerful review you gave of this book. I never shy away from reading the hard stuff because like you said...it's important that we do!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've not heard of this book before but it sounds like one we should all read...even if it is difficult. It is truly chilling to consider the small acts that became the holocaust. Thank you for sharing this review with us!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This sounds like a fascinating book. I so have to read this one, what with my obsession with WWII books and all. ;)

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

    ReplyDelete
  13. Love your blog Have an award for you over at my blog

    ReplyDelete
  14. This book really caught my attention too. I actually added a copy to my TBR collection after reading your review, Sandy. Books like this are so important to read, I think. There are so many lessons we can learn from them if only we are open to them.

    Thank you everyone who has commented! I can't express enough how grateful I am that you are taking the time to visit even while I'm away. And Sandy, thanks so much for sharing your review with us!

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is a challenging read and would no doubt be thought provoking. Thank you for the review, Sandy.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have no idea how I missed the originally posting of this review, but by golly this sounds like a must read!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hopping by from the Hop. I have a nonfiction blog and am always looking for great stuff to put on my TBR list. This book sounds very powerful. I read Sophie's Choice for my Modern Library blogs and liked it so I may have to check this one out. You have lots of great nonfiction reviews so I am sure I'll be checking back in with your blog!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to visit Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Don't be shy! I would love to hear from you. Due to a recent increase in spam, I will be moderating comments for the foreseeable future. Please be patient with me as it may take a few hours before I am able to approve your comment.