Götz and Meyer

October 31, 2020
Götz and Meyer

This is a great book by a very good author.Not just about the two SS officers assigned with extreminations inBelgrade, but about trauma, memory and remembrance, the archive,teaching and writing. One of the better fiction books dealing withthe camps by those a generation removed from their horror.Götz and Meyer, two noncommissioned SS officers, are entrustedwith an assignment, "not a big one," but one that "requiresefficiency." Their task is to transport five thousand concentrationcamp prisoners, one hundred at a time, in a hermetically sealedtruck in which they are gassed. As Albahari's anonymous narrator, ateacher, obsessively pursues the truth of this systematicannihilation, he shares his findings with his students. Theirschool bus becomes that truck, and as the memory of Belgrade's lostJewish souls is evoked, the students are bewildered. Their teacher,exhausted as much by the task of making history come alive as bythe toll his research has taken on him, is finally overwhelmed bythe horror of his own imaginings.From Publishers WeeklyEmbodiments of the banality of evil, Götz and Meyer are two GermanSS noncommissioned officers who drive a truck in which, over aperiod of weeks, they gas to death 5,000 Jewish inmates of aBelgrade concentration camp. "They are conscientious, they alwaysarrive on time, they are calm and cheerful... their uniforms tidy,their step light," and they even hand out chocolates to cheer upthe children they are about to kill. The nameless narrator of thishaunting Holocaust story, a Jewish teacher in post–Cold WarBelgrade, fixates on the two men to get a handle on the murder ofhis parents' families by the Nazis. Serbian novelist Albahari(Bait) imagines the mundane circumstances of their lives as theirobscene task dulls into everyday routine, and delves into thehistory of those who died in the camp. He elaborates the details ofthe Nazi extermination apparatus, how the carbon monoxide gas acts,the hopeless stabs at normality by the imprisoned Jews. Eventually,the narrator's flat, prosaic recitation of facts merges withhallucinatory reveries in which both his relatives and theirmurderers come to life. Even as his attempts to extract meaningthrough a historical recreation of the catastrophe growincreasingly futile, they yield in the end a numbed but movingelegy. (Dec.)From Booklist"What would I have done?" is a fundamental question in Holocaustliterature. Translated from the Serbian, this stirring novel drawson a wealth of archival materials, maps, and Nazi bureaucraticrecords about the concentration camp at the Belgrade Fairgrounds,from where, over five months in 1942, 5,000 Jews were loaded into atruck and gassed. A Serbian Jewish college professor looks back nowand obsessively imagines himself as perpetrator, victim, andbystander. Who were the two drivers who connected the exhaust pipeeach time so that the fumes killed the passengers? How did itbecome just a routine job? Who buried the heaped corpses? What ifone kid tried to resist? How could Belgrade citizens not know?There are no chapters or even paragraphs, but the spacious text issimple and eloquent, and readers will be drawn into the professor'sobsessive first-person narrative in which the horror is in thefacts of bureaucratic efficiency and the unimaginable evil inordinary life. Hazel Rochman