A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust

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Overview

The Silesian town of Bedzin lies a mere twenty-five miles from Auschwitz; through the linked ghettos of Bedzin and its neighbouring town, some 85,000 Jews passed on their way to slave labour or the gas chambers.

The principal civilian administrator of Bedzin, Udo Klausa, was a happily married family man. He was also responsible for implementing Nazi policies towards the Jews in his area - inhumane processes that were the precursors of genocide. Yet he later claimed, like so many...

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A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust

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Overview

The Silesian town of Bedzin lies a mere twenty-five miles from Auschwitz; through the linked ghettos of Bedzin and its neighbouring town, some 85,000 Jews passed on their way to slave labour or the gas chambers.

The principal civilian administrator of Bedzin, Udo Klausa, was a happily married family man. He was also responsible for implementing Nazi policies towards the Jews in his area - inhumane processes that were the precursors of genocide. Yet he later claimed, like so many other Germans after the war, that he had 'known nothing about it'; and that he had personally tried to save a Jew before he himself managed to leave for military service. A Small Town Near Auschwitz re-creates Udo Klausa's story. Using a wealth of personal letters, memoirs, testimonies, interviews and other sources, Mary Fulbrook pieces together his role in the unfolding stigmatization and degradation of the Jews under his authoritiy, as well as the heroic attempts at resistance on the part of some of his victims. She also gives us a fascinating insight into the inner conflicts of a Nazi functionary who, throughout, considered himself a 'decent' man. And she explores the conflicting memories and evasions of his life after the war.

But the book is much more than a portrayal of an individual man. Udo Klausa's case is so important because it is in many ways so typical. Behind Klausa's story is the larger story of how countless local functionaries across the Third Reich facilitated the murderous plans of a relatively small number among the Nazi elite - and of how those plans could never have been realized, on the same scale, without the diligent cooperation of these generally very ordinary administrators. As Fulbrook shows, men like Klausa 'knew' and yet mostly suppressed this knowledge, performing their day jobs without apparent recognition of their own role in the system, or any sense of personal wrongdoing or remorse - either before or after 1945.

This account is no ordinary historical reconstruction. For Fulbrook did not discover Udo Klausa amongst the archives. She has known the Klausa family all her life. She had no inkling of her subject's true role in the Third Reich until a few years ago, a discovery that led directly to this inescapably personal professional history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Not limited to the perspective of the perpetrators and bystanders, the book illuminates the destiny of the 85,000 Jews who went through the ghettos of the county, thus pioneering an integrative history of the Holocaust. Summing Up: Highly recommended." —CHOICE
The Washington Post
…a richly and painfully detailed examination of "those Germans who, after the war, would successfully cast themselves in the role of innocent 'bystanders,' even claiming they 'had never known anything about'" the Holocaust…Fulbrook has labored mightily to strike the proper balance between professional historian and family friend, and she has succeeded: The judgment she reaches is unequivocal but fair.
—Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
Auschwitz is peripheral to this academic but often horrific account of a Polish county, Bedzin, and its German administrator, Udo Klausa, during WWII. Thanks to family connections (he himself knew Klausa for years), Fulbrook, professor of German history at University College, London, was granted access to the Klausa family archive. Using this material, especially the letters of Klausa’s wife, and other newly discovered archival materials, Fulbrook explores how a mid-level Nazi bureaucrat went about his duties as unspeakable events occurred under his nose. Klausa arrived at his post in February 1940, five months after invading Nazis had herded hundreds of Jews into the town of Bedzin’s synagogue before burning it down. Although not directly responsible, Klausa witnessed public hanging, starvation, expulsion of Jews from jobs and homes, and repeated deportation. He and his wife often expressed discomfort but mostly got on with their lives. Despite Fulbrook’s personal motivations for embarking on this project, it remains scholarly: dense with citations, analyses of evidence and motivation, and long summaries of ongoing historical controversies. If general readers don’t mind the heaviness of the text, what they will find regarding a man’s capacity to dissociate himself from the evil to which he contributes will both captivate and disturb. 15 b&w halftones, 4 maps. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Udo Klausa was a Landrat—a Nazi administrator—for the Polish town of Bedzin during the German occupation of World War II. While he was not responsible for shaping Nazi policy in the occupied East, he was one of the vital cogs in its implementation. Central to Fulbrook's (German history, University Coll. London; A Concise History of Germany) analysis is the question of how Klausa could regard himself as basically innocent yet play a significant role in ethnic cleansing and genocide. She describes how after 1945 Klausa did not discount his wartime service but rather crafted a new narrative in which he depicted himself as a politically neutral civil servant, although he joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1933, and even regarded his Wehrmacht service merely as an indication of his loyalty to Germany. Such reenvisioning of his biography served as a mechanism for distinguishing himself from the "fanatical" Nazis he served with. VERDICT Klausa was married to Fulbrook's godmother, and the book's personal dimension makes for compelling reading. While the focus is on Klausa the Landrat, the narrative does not lose sight of the victims and their stories. Recommended for all who study Nazi Germany.—Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll., OH
Kirkus Reviews
Of ordinary Germans, ordinary Poles and ordinary Jews in an ordinary place--one that, with the right provocation, turned into an inferno in 1939. Bedzin was a town like many others in western Poland. Part of Silesia, it was close enough to the border to be home to many ethnic Germans. When Hitler's forces poured over the frontier and annexed the Landkreis, or county, of Bedzin into the Reich, one of those Germans became an administrator supervising the extraordinary violence visited upon the area's Jewish population. A central figure in Fulbrook's (German History/University College London; Dissonant Lives: Generations and Violence Through the German Dictatorships, 2011, etc.) narrative, Udo Klausa protested after the war that he was only following orders, didn't know of the crimes being committed and never had a hint of the Holocaust. He was merely one of countless "many who held themselves to be ‘decent' people [and who] went along with the Nazi regime for so long." One consequence of this was the fact that, within four years of the German invasion, half the population of his hometown was dead: "Not only the Great Synagogue, but the entire culture and society that it represented, were erased." It is that systematic erasure, carried out by those decent people, that is the heart of Fulbrook's narrative. Toward the end of the book, scrupulous in its naming of names and remembering the dead, the author writes of the administrator, "I cannot help but conclude that, whatever Klausa's perhaps ambivalent inner feelings, the way he actually behaved had horrendous historical consequences." Self-serving, cowardly and drenched in blood, Klausa became a good anti-communist civil servant in the West Germany that rose from the Reich's ashes. Fulbrook's well-crafted book joins other studies of war behind the front lines to remind readers that something unthinkable is nevertheless possible.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199679256
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/15/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 688,230
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Fulbrook is Professor of German History at University College London. She has written widely on modern German history, including A Concise History of Germany; A History of Germany 1918-2000: The Divided Nation; German National Identity after the Holocaust; Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR; and The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker. Her most recent book is Dissonant Lives: Generations and Violence through the German Dictatorships. A fellow of the British Academy, she is former Chair of the German History Society and a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Foundation for the former Concentration Camps at Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1. Legacies of Violence
2. Bedzin before 1939
3. Border Crossings
4. The Making of a Nazi Landrat
5. An Early Question of Violence
6. 'Only administration'
7. Means of Survival
8. Escalation, 1941-42
9. Towards Extermination
10. The Deportations of August 1942
11. Ghettoization for the 'Final Solution'
12. Final Thresholds
13. Afterwards and After-words
Notes
Index

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 19, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A Small Town Near Auschwitz By Mary Fulbrook Historian Mary Ful

    A Small Town Near Auschwitz
    By Mary Fulbrook

    Historian Mary Fulbrook tells the story of Udo Klausa, a civilian administrator in the small town of Bedzin.

    This is a non-fiction account of events that took place during World War Two taken from memoirs, interviews, testimonies, personal letters, and other sources. For the most part this is a vivid and startling look into the actions of the Nazi group. The biggest problem I have with this novel is that the man Mary Fulbrook is writing about is the husband of her God Mother, so though she tries not to the novel itself has a tone of “It wasn’t him it was the times.” In one instance she is recounting one of her God Mother’s letters where the woman is talk about the filthy Jews and the author states that this is a normal reaction of Germans in the time. This I can understand no matter how hard you try to be objective when there is a personal connection to something you are biased by default. What drove me crazy however is that she stated that people were all too willing to discuss what had happened.... I just got back from living in Germany and I can say for an absolute fact this is not true, which leads me to wonder how exactly she got these people to talk to her and how many euros she was flashing around. Other than this it is an interesting read though there are times when it seems like the author is making excuses for a man who had a role in the atrocity that occurred. It seems like this will be one of those that you will either love or hate with no middle ground, I can see how some people will enjoy this since the author does a remarkable job in recounting historical events but I can also see how some will hate it.
    I was sent a free copy of this book for an honest review.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2012

    Highly recommended

    My father and mother-in-law came from this small town, Bedzin, and my husband and I have visited. Ms. Fulbrook brought the town and the events to life. The story was very close to me, very true, and ultimately extremely touching, as well as horrifying.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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