Before The Holocaust

Before The Holocaust – Antisemitic Violence and the Reaction of German
Elites and Institutions During the Nazi Takeover
By Hermann Beck
Oxford University Press – £30.00

[…] this chapter illustrates that while there were a few individual Catholic voices in the spring of 1933 that favoured strong protests, the Catholic episcopate as a whole remained silent in the face of antisemitic outrages.


As clarified above, a mere thirty-one pages into this book’s Introduction, the author Hermann Beck already makes perfectly clear that by and large, the Catholic Church essentially turned a blind eye when it came to the Nazis utterly appalling and shameful treatment of Germany’s Jewish population during the 1930s.

As is well known, this is nothing new, but to once again have to read such complicit substantiation, is an unnerving reminder as to how unwilling the church per se was. Unwilling that is, to even try to stem the flow of ever increasing scapegoat ideology and outright murder.

Had it done so, had the church stepped up, who knows where and how events might (or might not) have materialised throughout Germany in the 1930s?

Before The Holocaust – Antisemitic Violence and the Reaction of German Elites and Institutions During the Nazi Takeover, doesn’t exactly herald such argument by bringing it to the fore. Although Hermann Beck’s rather altruistic writing, does unwittingly suggest as much; which all told, accounts for this book’s acute necessity and unquestionable value.

Prior to the above opening quotation, Beck resoundingly states: ‘’The reasons for the absence of protest were clearly spelled out […]: remote aloofness to the Jewish minority whose ‘’economic struggle’’ was of no concern to the Catholic Church and fear that interference with the regime’s policies might do harm to the Church itself. In his correspondence with American Church leaders […] Cardinal Archbishop Michael von Faulhaber of Munich and Freising, downplayed and even negated reports of antisemitic attacks. He, too, advocated that silence was the better part of valour and that protests against Nazi antisemitism would imperil Catholics, while arguing that Jews could well help themselves, using the rapid end to the boycott to justify his position. In his correspondence with those German Catholics who claimed that the Church must speak out, he staunchly defended the inactivity of the episcopate, maintaining that at a time when the Catholic Church was under severe attack other more pressing matters existed than extending help to Jews.’’

Relentlessly concise and nigh monumental within its outstanding sphere of research, the 474 pages (excluding Bibliography, Acknowledgements and Index) that make up Before The Holocaust is nothing less than an astonishing achievement.

Astonishing because its subject matter needs to be said (and re-said at very regular intervals).
Astonishing because its mere quest for the truth couldn’t have been easy – especially given the subject matter.

As Robert Gellately, author of Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis has since written:’’In what is sure to become the standard work on the topic, Beck shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Nazi-led violence rained down on the Jews during the Nazi takeover. Reactions among citizens, including the educated elites and established Church leaders, was at best muted. Without question, this early and vicious brutality signaled the beginning of the inhumane process that would culminate in the Holocaust.’’

Once again, who knows how events might (or might not) have materialised throughout Germany in the 1930s, had a larger segment of the populace – let alone the all powerful church – not remained so heartbreakingly silent.
And ultimately complicit.

This all powerful book does more than just set this train of thought in motion.
It both accommodates and actively promotes it.

David Marx


Robespierre –
The Man Who Divides Us The Most
By Marcel Gauchet
Princeton University Press – £28.00

Just as the Boris of Johnson was a floundering, dishonest buffoon right to the very end – the many history books will no doubt prove me right: some might contend that they’re already beginning to – Maximillien Robespierre was an inexorable, juggling juxtaposition right to the very end.

On the one hand, the very founding embodiment of democracy, on the other, its first (essential) real tyrant. Most, if not all of which is highly substantiated, albeit never put to rest, in this unceremoniously hard hitting book, Robespierre – The Man Who Divides Us The Most.

Written by one of France’s pre-eminent public intellectuals, Marcel Gauchet, of whom William Doyle, author of The Oxford History of the French Revolution candidly writes: ‘’[…] Gauchet’s intellectual biography of the French Revolution’s most celebrated – or notorious – spokesman brings out all the ambiguities forced upon him by the way the revolution developed. Gauchet’s lucid analysis makes clear why Robespierre’s role in shaping the revolution and its legacy has fuelled so much vehement disagreement over two centuries.’’

Hence the division.
Hence the continued discussion.
Hence this rather terrific book.

In fact, there’s a particularly pertinent section with regards the double-edged sword of Robespierre’s visionary antics of being in chapter six (‘The Two Faces Of The Revolution’), wherein the author
states: ‘’Robespierre’s vision of a marriage between virtue and terror was hardly the stuff of dreams, at least not outside the comfortable irreality of academia. For a time it appealed to people for whom the end he pursued had not lost its power of attraction, for whom the mystical unity of the people in and through their power seemed to be, in one form or another, the necessary expression of their rights. The sublimity of this end justified, concealed, or caused to be forgotten, depending on the case, the nature of the means employed and the reality of the results […]. Little by little, it became apparent that the right way to give the people a sense of their special power was to place it in a different context. Doing this made it possible to establish a new relationship with government, based on mutual respect and recognition, and to devise procedures for adjusting this relationship as necessary (my italics).’’

Said five words (adjusting this relationship as necessary) might be construed as being somewhat Machiavellian, but they do appear to have liberally transcended down the years; unto an ethos of about right turn ideology. In much the same way that 1789 and 1793 still symbolize the two opposing facets of the French Revolution, whereby ‘’Robespierre’s contradictions were the contradictions of the revolution itself.’’

As such, this overtly panoramic book embodies said thinking both thoroughly and throughout.

David Marx

Terrorists, Anarchists, and Republicans

Terrorists, Anarchists, and Republicans –

The Genevans and the Irish in Time of Revolution

By Richard Whatmore

Princeton University Press – £25.00

NEW GENEVA BARRACKS 1798. Thousands of United Irishmen were held here under inhumane conditions, many awaiting transportation. Described by Col. Thomas Cloney, a prisoner himself,… as the filthiest most damp and loathsome prison devoid of any comfort… Remember all who died here, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

(‘The Power of Place’).

Things are brought to the highest crisis that was ever seen in Europe. France plainly designs the Universal Monarchy. Tis war only that can determine whether she shall have it or no. If she prevail, our fate is manifest; we must come under the dominion of French Popery and tyranny.

(‘Ireland, Oppression and Opportunity’)

As the second of the two above quotes makes perfectly clear, it is indeed nice to see that continuity continues to reign supreme amid the elongated centuries of fraught friendship.

Especially where the blatant put-down of France is concerned; where ye Cordial Entente (which was signed between the UK and the French Republic in 1904) nevertheless reverberates ever so easily amid the UK’s current inebriated breeze of petulant and relentless need of (ever so distorted) distraction.

Energy crisis? What energy crisis?

Oh, you mean the millions of old people having to decided whether to actually eat or heat their homes this winter? Oh look, Macron’s still carping on about the Northern Ireland Peace Deal.

Bloody French.

What was it the country’s new Prime Minister, Liz Trust pronounced just yesterday, ‘’We will deliver, deliver, deliver.’’ Hmm, Truss couldn’t deliver a Dominoes; although Terrorists, Anarchists, and Republicans now there’s a title – does go some way in pronouncing an acute, yet somewhat disturbing insight into that little-known but important moment in Anglo-Irish history. A book wherein all the literary colours are of the utmost grey, not to mention seemingly non-tangible by way of Richard Whatmore’s more than fastidious and informed way of writing.

For instance, in chapter eight’s ‘Shelburne,’ he writes of one William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne: ‘’He again damned Irish culture, arguing that Irish backwardness economically could be traced to the lack of an aspiring middle-class:

As to morals, whoever knows anything of Ireland knows how rare they are in any rank of life. In England they are much oftener to be met with in the middling classes, who are obliged to be active and diligent to make their own and their children’s fortune, than among the higher classes, whose fortunes are made and have no motive for exertion except ambition, which may be one case in a hundred. In Ireland there was, at that time at least, no middling classes, and the manners of the better sort were, and are, justly proverbial.’’

As mentioned at the outset, nice to see that social and political continuity continues unabated. Hmm, Engerland’s middling classes – don’t you just love ‘em? No wonder the second part of this book’s title (The Genevans and the Irish in Time of Revolution) ends with the word, revolution.

Tough and to the point, well-rounded yet glaringly honest, I somehow feel this book won’t be on the top of Liz Truss’s reading list.

There again, I doubt she can actually read.

David Marx

Boy On Fire

Boy On Fire – The Yong Nick Cave

By Mark Mordue

Allen & Unwin – £10.99

Look at Lolita. In regard to my stuff, a certain savagery is necessary because it makes the opposite more affecting. But ultimately it is the softer and more tender gesture that I am concerned with, and it is the ability to survive in sometimes extremely brutal landscapes that makes it all the more heroic and valuable.

(‘The Singer and the Song’)

Not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand.

(Spinoza – ‘Flight From Death’)

These 369 pages regale the early years of today’s so-called dark prince of rock’n’roll, replete with family history (detailing his father, Colin Cave’s death and partial, resulting trajectory of elongated influence), education and the forming of The Boys Next Door. A band who were to morph into The Birthday upon arrival in England in February 1980.

An altogether translucent and rather powerful account of a most singular and uncompromising artist, Boy On Fire – The Yong Nick Cave is clearly written for (major) fans. Although there does lurk a tantalising thread of adroit honesty throughout the book – which does make for occasionally mirthful reading: ‘’’I was bowled over in my teens by the basic premise of Crime and Punishment,’ Nick says with a trace of amusement. ‘It was really the first bit of philosophy I could get my head around, and it probably inspired me to be an extraordinary arsehole all my life’’’ […]. ‘’I often wondered about it then. How Nick was so non-conformist in his thinking and yet completely comfortable in situations where he was required to ‘’behave by the rules’’’’ (‘Double Trouble’).

It is just such nuggets of info or nascent, come-clean provocation that to my mind, account for Boy On Fire being such a quasi-fire-brand read.

There again, we are talking about Nick Cave, who might be said to invariably delight in blood orange chaos and calamity: ‘’It was all so self-conscious, and it was Nick that set that elitist bullshit. Too many drugs were going down and, really, Nick was at the centre of it all, because if you didn’t take heroin you weren’t cool like Nick – a very sad fact, and why I’ve never been a fan’’ (‘Flight From Death’).

The Australian writer and journalist, Mark Mordue, has herein written a soulful biography that’s simply as plausible as it is coherent. Not to forget eye-opening.

David Marx

Old Truths and New Cliches

Old Truths and New Cliches

Essays by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Edited by David Stromberg

Princeton University Press – £20.00

When I went to heder as a boy and studied Akdamut, the poem for Pentecost, I was amazed by the verses which said that if all the skies were parchment, all people writers, all blades of grass pens, and all the oceans ink, these would still be insufficient to describe the mysteries of the Torah. That parable became my credo: the skies were indeed parchment, the grasses pens, and all people in fact writers. Everything that existed wrote, painted, sculpted, and sought creative achievement.

God is the sum of all possibility.

(‘Why I Write As I Do: The Philosophy and Definition of a Jewish Writer’)

Divided into three prime sections (The Literary Arts, Yiddish and Jewish Life and Personal Writings and Philosophy), this is a book which delves deep unto the ever meandering thought process of a most complex, and altogether endearingly restless mind.

Edited by the writer, translator and scholar David Stromberg, Old Truths and New Cliches traverses an array of occasionally dense subject matter. Ranging from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Jewish background in Warsaw, Poland, to philosophy and censorship, to literature and indeed, art itself: ‘’Artists, like plants, must have roots, and the deeper the soil, the deeper the roots. Art is the opposite of analysis. Sometime, five-year-old ‘’wunderkinds’’ show great powers in mathematics. But there is no prodigy in literature or painting – not even in composition. At the moment when art tears itself away from its soil, it becomes technical, difficult, pretentious, and tedious’’ (‘Old Truths and New Cliches’).

How exceedingly spot on and accurate.

Like George Orwell, Singer always spoke and shot straight from the hip of potentially, inflammatory telling it, as it so desperately needs to be told. The former from a more politically induced premise, with Singer from that of more literary persuasion.

Both writers heavily endowed with the ability to bequeath a menagerie of wonderful one-liners. The top four herein being:

Real art touches the thing in itself, the very essence of being and creation.

The Hitlers, the Mussolinis, and the Stalins turn to dust, but the works of the spirit are ever imbued with new life.

Intellectual prodigies are rare, but when it comes to feelings, we are all prodigies.

The wicked sit day and night in a theatre, eat pork, and sin with loose women.

There’s enough material amid these 205 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) to provide the likes of Woody Allen with a further trilogy of scripts. Even The Ten Commandments isn’t free of critique: ‘’But Mr. Moses is naive if he expects the world to take his commandments seriously. They will be read and forgotten, unless Holywood decides to make them into a movie… (‘The Ten Commandments and Modern Critics’).

Spontaneous, to the point and witty, simultaneously complex and multi-varied, Old Truths and New Cliches doesn’t make for yer every day reading. There again, Isaac Bashevis Singer doesn’t make for yer every day writer.

David Marx

Orwell & Empire

Orwell & Empire

By Douglas Kerr

Oxford University Press – £25.00

His political ideas were fairly unformed; it would be more accurate to speak of his political emotions.


On the whole the literary history of the ‘thirties seems to justify the opinion that a writer does well to keep out of politics.’ Politics, meanwhile, will not keep out of literature. The novel, in particular, was the canary in the political coal-mine, because it could only breath in an atmosphere of freedom of thought. In the age of totalitarian dictatorships which seemed to be coming, ‘literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at least a temporary death.’


Rumour has it that the despicable Boris Johnson has a desire to return to journalism.

If such be the case (and I, for one, sincerely hope not), he’d be well advised to heed the following: ‘’Orwell was becoming a professional writer, and no doubt he was on the look-out for good copy. But more importantly, he was trying to unlearn superiority, and to see things from the underside’’ (‘Class’).

Where class per se, along with recurrent, prime-time ignorance, has always been Britain’s quintessential downfall (one need look no further than the country’s current, pending disaster), this book – perhaps by default – sets the record straight.

There again, Eric Blair, otherwise known as George Orwell, has always set the record straight. In fact, he is renowned for having done so; while in the ultimate big scheme of things, Orwell & Empire is no exception.

By focusing on the writer’s work that derives directly from Orwell’s Burmese years – which include such narratives as ‘A Hanging’ and ‘Shooting an Elephant,’ it has to be said that nigh every avenue amid this book’s 167 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index) culminates with an exploration unto humanistic honesty and fair-play. Former British traits some might say, which the current Prime Minster knows absolutely nothing about. And Orwell (perhaps inadvertently) everything about: ‘’But when Orwell returns home from Barcelona, he finds a country outside narrative, living its immemorial ways, perilously unaware of what is going on in the world, ‘sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England. It would take a war to wake her up.’

Indeed it would. Indeed it did.

Frank, to the point and written from a stand-point of exceedingly well researched knowledge, Douglas Kerr has herein written a fine contribution to be placed alongside the ever increasing pantheon of Orwellian induced literature. As Kerr unconditionally states: ‘’This book puts the powerful oriental dimension in George Orwell’s work in the foreground. I am aware of the negative connotations of the word ‘oriental’ for most modern readers, its association with mastery, selection, and prejudice. But my aim is to show how Orwell struggled all his life, and not with complete success, to exorcise the Orientalism […] which came with his Anglo-Indian patrimony.’’

Upon reaching the end of this book, said ‘patrimony’ appears to be the least of Orwell’s protracted trajectory.

David Marx

Travellers In The Third Reich

Travellers In The Third Reich –

The Rise Of Fascism Through The Eyes Of Everyday People

By Julia Boyd

Elliott Thompson – £10.99

The German people, like their master,’ wrote Francois-Poncet, ‘combined an inferiority complex with a sense of pride.’

(‘Hitler’s Games’)

Why, one wanders, did Du Bois not point out more robustly the hypocrisy of Americans who, while expressing righteous indignation at the treatment of German Jews, were content to ignore the lynching and torture of African-Americans?

(‘Academic Wasteland’)

A more than interesting premise from which to historically grapple, this overtly readable/if not enjoyable book, sheds an array of politically illuminating light on a period of Germany’s history that was cloyingly calamitous to say the least.

But where Travellers In The Third Reich – The Rise Of Fascism Through The Eyes Of Everyday People really comes into its own, is the extent to which it (perhaps inadvertently) substantiates how much of the horribly English class divide, was responsible for turning a blind-eye.

A seethingly calculated blind-eye might one add, to what was fundamentally taking place right under Hitler’s altogether ghastly watch during the thirties.

As much is nigh wholeheartedly brought to bear in the aforementioned chapter ‘Academic Wasteland,’ where Julia Boyd writes: ‘’There were of course professors […] who genuinely sympathised with Nazi ideology and eagerly sought to identify with the regime. But many other academics chose to travel in the Third Reich because Germany’s cultural heritage was simply too precious to renounce for politics, however unpleasant those politics might be. They allowed their reverence for the past to warp their judgement of the present. As a result they wilfully ignored the realities of a dictatorship that by 1936 – despite the Olympic mirage – was unashamedly parading itself in all its unspeakable colours’’ (my italics).

Moreover, what I really like about Boyd’s enticingly understated writing, is how every now and then, she is able to establish the degree to which history really does repeat itself before our very eyes.

If we’re prepared to open them that is.

For instance, just how exceedingly pertinent is the following in direct relation to Boris Johnson’s current abysmal excuse for a government: ‘’Tugged by forces within and without, by foreign powers and foreign money-lenders, industrialist plotters, embittered generals, impoverished landed gentry, potential dictators, refugees from Eastern Europe, the government reeled from crisis to crisis, within a permanent crisis’’ (‘The Noose Tightens’).

As Lucy Lethbridge has since written in The Tablet: ‘’This absorbing and beautifully organised book is full of small encounters that jolt the reader into a historical past that seems still very near.’’

To be sure, much of Julia Boyd’s writing appears to float like the quintessential butterfly, yet sting like an over zealous bee; which, given some of the perplexing subject matter herein, is no mean feat.

David Marx