Anyone Who Utters a Consoling Word Is a Traitor – Alexander Kluge (tr. Alta L. Price)

In 1957 Fritz Bauer, a German Jewish judge and prosecutor, relayed information about the whereabouts in Argentina of fugitive Holocaust planner Adolf Eichmann to Israeli Intelligence (the Mossad) that allowed Eichmann to be captured. Fritz Bauer also played a role in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, Bauer died, aged 64, drowned in his bathtub. A postmortem examination found that he had taken alcohol and sleeping tablets.

‘Anyone Who Utters a Consoling Word Is a Traitor’ by Alexander Kluge, in collaboration with Thomas Combrink, (translated by Alta L. Price) comes with a byline, “48 Stories for Fritz Bauer” and opens with a short anecdote “To Live a Decent Day”, the narrator (one assumes Alexander Kluge) is on his way to Fritz Bauer’s funeral service. A mention is made of the Minister of Cultural Affairs losing his best friend:

On the other hand, none of the present friends or political authorities would have been available had Fritz Bauer tried to reach out to them before he died, or sought someone to talk to. No one among this country’s overburdened leadership had the time or energy required for friendship or human intimacy. ‘Anyone who utters a consoling word is a traitor.’ Bazon Brock

The forty-eight stories that make up this collection come in many varied voices, first person, third person, each a short revelation of the atrocities of Holocaust, a sketch, enough detail to give the reader a shock, for you to question morals, standpoints, political affiliations, but the stories do not contain enough detail for you to feel as though this is a collection of investigative journalism.

The story “On the Bureaucratic Tracks” reflecting on 1944 and the weekly death-camp railway transports from Hungary to Nazi occupied Poland and, ultimately, Auschwitz.

Suggestions began flowing in: could Soviet paratroopers or the Polish underground army be on standby to occupy and destroy the Auschwitz death camp on short notice?

Repeated requests had been made (most recently on 31 March 1941, by a Slovak rabbi) to bomb the railway line between Budapest and Poland, thereby making it impossible for the transports to pass. None of the other territories occupied by the Reich had such reliable informants, or any resistance that came close to becoming and armed insurrection. The easily destroyable 30-metre bridge over a river was a particularly vulnerable point along the railway. It lay directly before a tunnel entrance which such a bombing could readily block. The transports would have had to resort to a long detour via Austria, over strategic railway connections to the Balkans and Greece; in terms of sheer duration, this would be so burdensome that the PART OF PRACTICAL THINKERS would have ceased further evacuation. The Union of Orthodox Rabbis in Switzerland shared this message with the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in New York. Isaac Strenbusch passed it along to Roswell McClelland, the representative of the War Refugee Board in Bern. ‘We request air raids be carried out on the cities of Kaschau and Preschau.’ Reference was made to the Vrba-Wetzler report. In a letter to his fellow associates in the US, Swiss resident Weissmandel added, ‘How guilty will you feel if you do not move heaven and earth?’
All these recommendation and instructions were given to John W. Pehle, the US Department of Treasury lawyer, who was also head of the War Refugee Board. He wrote a carefully weighted, indecisive letter to John McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War at the Pentagon.
On 4 July 1944, McCloy responded that, in accordance with Pehle’s sober assessment, the proposed airstrikes could NOT BE CARRIED OUT. They would call for considerable air-force support that US troops in the Mediterranean required instead.
At the same time, Rudolph H
öss was once again summoned from Berlin to Auschwitz in order to continue preparations for the Hungarian Jews’ destruction. He returned to Berlin on 29 July, and was awarded the next higher rank of the War Merit Cross for his additional contributions.

These “factual” reportage “stories” give the impression that they could be snippets from Fritz Bauer’s files, notes that need further investigation so potential legal action could be launched or people charged with war crimes. These stories move between the distant reportage style to first person accounts, are they actual accounts, are they fictionalized stories, are they accounts that have been changed to a first-person voice? As a reader you become disoriented, overwhelmed with frustration and sadness of these “stories” but at the same time, lost in a maze of atrocities. There are escapers who are then conscripted, empathetic doctors alongside monsters, each time you turn the page you do not know what is in store.

A Touch of Liveliness That Surprised Proust

The eight young officers – exactly as they had left company headquarters on the front lines outside Verdun for the weekend, ‘disreputable’ in their tight uniforms insofar as they stank after the long nighttime journey, but nevertheless ready for amorous adventures – raced into the Duchess of Guermantes’ GRAND BALLROOM. Proust noted their arrival. Later on, he sought to get closer to the youngest of these senior officers, whose calling card bore the name Helbronner. Unnoticed by the latter, Proust lingered for some time, making small talk, trying to stay in the vicinity of this tall youth. The writer was intent on capturing the appearance of this war god amid these society folk in a portrayal that would last for all eternity. At the same time, he was also looking to stand out in the officer’s memory – the officer who would leave for the front, and perhaps death, the very next day. As Proust frantically jotted down scraps of conversation on the back of a menu, he lost track of the gang of sprightly pleasure seekers who had enlivened the ballroom and then taken off. Proust looked among the dancers, the turmoil of spectators, the lounge area near the toilets and by the exits, but Hellbronner was nowhere to be found.

A short collection of anecdotes, very short forays, and observations, one that highlights the atrocities of the Holocaust but at the same time highlights how we continue to ignore the warning signs, has history taught humans anything? A collection that reads like forty-eight scraps for potential further investigation by Fritz Bauer.

Copy courtesy of the publisher Seagull Books.

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