Historian Otto Dov Kulka has dedicated his life to studying and writing about Nazism and the Holocaust. Until now he has always set to one side his personal experiences as a child inmate at Auschwitz. Breaking years of silence, Kulka brings together the personal and historical, in a devastating, at times poetic, account of the concentration camps and the private mythology one man constructed around his experiences.
Auschwitz is for the author a vast repository of images, memories, and reveries: “the Metropolis of Death” over which rules the immutable Law of Death. Between 1991 and 2001, Kulka made audio recordings of these memories as they welled up, and in Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death he sifts through these fragments, attempting to make sense of them. He describes the Family Camp’s children’s choir in which he and others performed “Ode to Joy” within yards of the crematoria, his final, indelible parting from his mother when the camp was liquidated, and the “black stains” along the roadside during the winter death march. Amidst so much death Kulka finds moments of haunting, almost unbearable beauty (for beauty, too, Kulka says, is an inescapable law).
As the author maps his interior world, readers gain a new sense of what it was to experience the Shoah from inside the camps—both at the time, and long afterward. Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death is a unique and powerful experiment in how one man has tried to understand his past, and our shared history.
Otto Dov Kulka
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Otto Dov Kulka, Rosenbloom Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was an 11-year-old boy sent to Auschwitz, in September 1943. His father, he writes (p13), had been in concentration camps since 1939, ending in Auschwitz a year before Otto. He miraculously found his son, knowing he would be sent to Auschwitz with the remaining Theresienstadt survivors, to await their destruction there.
Kulka's slim book of only 127 pages describes his personal experiences of the horrors of the 'Final Solution' we are only too familiar with. Wikipedia, for example, lists 60 pages of personal accounts of the Holocaust. Kulka's is illustrated with 48 chilling scenes of what remains of the site, its relics of personal property, plus other places and personalities significant to Jews. He is forced with the other prisoners to witness the public execution of four escaped and recaptured Russian prisoners (p45) with their final words, "'Za Stalina!' 'Za rodinu!'"...
This is a book I found it impossible to assess a response to, and never has the Amazon analysis of a star rating felt more inappropriate. This is, of course, a book which should never have been written, since the fact that history happened at all is horrifying beyond the imagination of horror itself.
Yet, having happened, books such as these MUST be written, and even more importantly, MUST be read. We must know what we are capable of for good and for ill. But how can a reader like, love, think its okay, not like or hate a book such as this?
I have (fortunately) no concept of an existence like this; I have only encountered people who lived through those times, and suffered what was suffered, who, try though they might cannot tell what they endured, because those of us who did not have these experiences cannot comprehend or imagine them.
And those that suffered them, however well they survived them were of course scarred deeply.
The childhood memories of Kulka of the camps are chilling and a reminder that we can never forget the horrors of all mass exterminations. This book evokes memories of listening to the stories of my friends parents who survived the Nazi death machine.
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