A documentation of events surrounding the Nazi pogroms

by | Apr 17, 2015 | Book Reviews

75 Jahre Reichskristallnacht
Anna Rosmus
Grafenau: Samples, 2013
157 pages

Anna Rosmus, the German author and public intellectual, is well-known to quite a few in the Jewish community of Hampton Roads since the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Old Dominion University invited her several times to be a featured speaker for their international symposia which it had organized 1998–2009.

Rosmus first made headlines in 1981 as a high school student when she exposed in an award-winning research paper, the dark Nazi-past of Passau, her hometown in Lower Bavaria.

In 1990, the German film director Michael Verhoeven made a film about her called Das schreckliche Mädchen (The Nasty Girl) which was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Foreign Film. In the wake of Hollywood, The Nasty Girl has become a classic in German Studies, Jewish Studies and other related disciplines.

Since her first research paper, Rosmus has made a name for herself as a prolific author of a dozen books and numerous articles in anthologies, as well as journalistic essays in international newspapers including the New York Times. She has been featured several times on German television, appeared twice on 60 Minutes in the United States and has participated in talk shows or been the subject of documentaries in 11 countries around the world.

Since 1985, Rosmus has been working with German Jewish veterans who have returned to Germany after World War II as part of the American occupying force. A decade later she began to facilitate encounters between Jewish immigrants who came from Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary and she organized several trips for American veterans to revisit their former battlefields in Lower Bavaria at the end of World War II.

Rosmus’ latest book 75 Jahre Reichskristallnacht (75 Years After the Kristallnacht of the Third Reich) documents and commemorates the events surrounding the Nazi pogroms against Germany’s Jewish population in 1938, which became known as “Kristallnacht,” the “Night of Broken Glass.” It marked the systematic escalation of state-sponsored terror against the country’s Jewish population, which eventually was to culminate in the Holocaust.

In his preface to Rosmus’ book, Rabbi Walter Homolka, director of the Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam, remembers the pervasive misgivings, if not aggressive aversion of many citizens of Passau and beyond, when Anna Rosmus first began her research, but he also concludes: “A lot has changed. For this book, Anna Rosmus has received assistance from all sides in her endeavors to shed light on the local happenings surrounding 1938” (p. 7; all translations from the German are mine.)

In her introduction, Rosmus states that her book intends to be a documentation of the events and victims of “Kristallnacht” in Passau and circa 15 other villages and towns surrounding Passau. She characterizes the goal of her documentation as a “starting point” for students, teachers, journalists and researchers of local history, providing names, places and other dates for further exploration. A total of 597 footnotes with further references substantiate her narrative.

A major source of information is Ernst Finger, a former citizen of Vilshofen near Passau. After “Kristallnacht,” he was detained for a month in the concentration camp of Dachau. Following his release, he took detailed notes of his experiences before he finally emigrated to Chile. Many years later, he shared them with Rosmus in an extensive correspondence that lasted from 1986 to 1990. She complements Finger’s information with other eyewitness accounts as well as additional data from communal and federal archives. With her persistent exploration, she was not only able to reconstruct complete biographies, but also to contact survivors or trace their descendants in different parts of the world.

As in some of her earlier books, Rosmus integrates into her narrative a substantial amount of visual material, most of which she found when emigrants or their relatives shared their family albums with her. This visual material includes photographs of Jewish citizens in Passau and its surrounding villages in the 1920s and 1930s, Nazi pamphlets, emigration papers and ultimately pictures of tomb stones of Passau’s Jews who had emigrated to America, Chile and Israel.

In principle comparable to Yaffa Eliach’s Tower of Life in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., toward the end of her book, the author provides a long list of names of Jewish citizens from the Passau area who perished in the Holocaust, complementing the names with pertinent biographical data.

The author’s concluding chapter entitled “In Memoriam” describes the growing memorial culture, which sprang up in recent years all over Germany. Following the nationwide movement of implanting so-called “Stolpersteine” (stumbling stones) in front of houses where Jews once lived, before they were deported or forced to emigrate, several houses and public places in and around Passau are now marked by such momentous mementos.

May Anna Rosmus’ formidable book also serve as an informative stumbling stone for future generations of Germans in their continuing research and remembrance.

—Dr. Frederick A. Lubich is a professor of German at Old Dominion University.