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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 52.
- Review Date: 2007-11-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Aly (Hitler's Beneficiaries) ingeniously reconstructs the life and death of a German-Jewish girl in this impressive piece of detective work. After being awarded the Marion Samuel Prize (established by the German Remembrance Foundation to commemorate the million Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust), Aly decided to learn as much as he could about Samuel and her family. With the help of ads and a speech, both published in German newspapers, he got in touch with individuals who knew the family, was able to find a few surviving relatives and pieced together a narrative from these scant sources. Soon after the family's business was ransacked in 1935, Samuel and her parents left their small town and moved to Berlin, where they lived until they were sent to Auschwitz. Illustrating civilian complicity in their fate, Aly notes a letter from the Samuels' former landlord, asking the authorities for rent that went unpaid after the Samuels were deported. Aly's account puts a face on the tragedy of the Holocaust. (Jan.)
The little girl behind the name
When acclaimed historian Götz Aly (The Nazi Census, Hitler's Beneficiaries) heard he was to receive the 2003 Marion Samuel Prizean award given by the German Remembrance Foundation, an organization dedicated to researching and commemorating the lives of Holocaust victimshe wondered who Marion Samuel was. She was, he quickly learned, nobody. Marion Samuel was a name only, a name randomly selected from a memorial book of murdered German Jews. She was a faceless and forgotten 11-year-old girl about whom nothing was known but the year of her birth (1931), and the date of her deportation to Auschwitz (March 3, 1943). For Aly, this dearth of information was a clear invitation to fill in the blanks.
Thus began a painstaking and ingenious investigation, the result of which is this slim but powerful record: Into the Tunnel: The Brief Life of Marion Samuel, 1931-1943. As a historian of the Shoah (which means "annihilation"), Aly has the tools necessary to reconstruct a life out of almost nothing. Among his sources (several of them reproduced for the reader) are old Berlin address books, vaccination records, federal archives and bureaucratic records. Especially chilling is the Property Declaration listing the value of items left in the Samuel family apartment after their deportation to Auschwitz: a flower table, a wash stand, a lamp, a child's chair (designated as "worthless").
A newspaper ad leads the author to the discovery of a former classmate, a woman who remembers the last time she ever saw Marion. Alone and frightened, Marion blurted to her friend, "People go into a tunnel in a mountain, and along the way there is a great hole and they all fall in and disappear."
Marion Samuel did go into a tunnel of sorts, and because she was forgotten, there she stayed. Until now. Into the Tunnel pieces fragments of an ordinary life into an extraordinary fabric of remembrance. By restoring one girl's history, Götz Aly helps us bear witness to the unique fate of one innocent consumed by the Holocaust.
Joanna Brichetto received Vanderbilt University's first-ever master's degree in Jewish Studies last year.