The Holocaust provides powerful foreshadowing, albeit unintentional by the author, in White Picture: Poems by Jiri Orten, translated by prizewinning Seattle poet Lyn Coffin (Night, paper, $9.99). Orten was a Czech Jew from a middle class secular family, and a young man when the portents of World War II became evident. While some of his family fled, he remained behind, perhaps because of his devotion to the Czech language and the arts. By the time he wrote most of the poems presented here in expert translation, he knew “his life had been slit,” writes Edward Hirsch in the introduction. This gives his work an added dimension, as he becomes increasingly aware that he won’t survive. He was killed by “a speeding German car” in 1941.
Rilke, Brodsky and the Bible clearly influenced Orten’s work, from which Coffin will read at the Magnolia Bookstore at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1.
In his new novel, The Warsaw Anagrams (Overlook, cloth, $29.95), Richard Zimmler (The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon) brings a touch of the supernatural and a murder mystery to the grim times of the Warsaw Ghetto. The narrator is Erik Cohen, a well-respected psychiatrist who is forced into a ghetto apartment with his niece and her son, Adam. Times are tense, but residents have little clue to their fate. So when Adam turns up dead, Erik chooses to believe it is more than just another random act of Nazi cruelty and sets about unraveling the mystery, despite the protests of everyone around him. Zimmler explores the question of what people will do to survive when illness and starvation are close at hand in an expertly written but disquieting story.
Two new nonfiction books tell the story of gentiles brave enough to shelter Jews during that time. Frans and Mien Wijnakkers are a young married couple living in a rural Dutch town when Frans is approached by resistance workers to take in a Jewish family in Two Among the Righteous Few by Marty Brounstein (Tate, paper, $12.99). Thanks to a special hidden addition to their house, they manage to shelter, or find shelter for, a large number of Jews, including children. One of those children is born in hiding and they pretend she is their own, and she became Brounstein’s wife. The Wijnakkers have both been honored by Yad Vashem.
Diane Kinman wrote Franca’s Story (Wimer, paper, $16.95) about her Portland neighbor Franca Mercati Martin. As she got to know the talented painter, Kinman learned that Franca came from a wealthy Florentine family who, despite their own wartime hardships, sheltered Jewish children and helped them escape. While the book mostly concerns Franca’s family, the section on the Jewish children makes for dramatic and touching reading. Franca is still living and painting, and the book is illustrated with black and white reproductions of her paintings, which can be seen in color on the publisher’s website, wimerpublishing.com.
When Art Spiegelman published the graphic novel Maus in 1986, he had no idea he was creating a sensation. The international bestseller, which depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats, was based on his family history gleaned from his parents, who survived the Holocaust. In Metamaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus (Pantheon, cloth, $35), Spiegelman explores the Maus phenomenon in great depth, analyzing his art, the Holocaust, his parents and his Pulitzer prize-winning book. The volume comes with a DVD that includes a copy of The Complete Maus (it became a two-volume work) that links to an archive of materials including audio interviews with Spiegelman’s father, historical documents and writings and sketches from the author’s notebooks.
For World War II buffs, Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier’s Letters from the Eastern Front, edited by Konrad H. Jarausch (Princeton, cloth, $35), is the story of a German officer’s increasing disillusionment with Nazi policies, as told in letters edited by the writer’s son. Jarausch is a noted German historian and it took years before he could even look at the letters, because he feared learning of his father’s (also named Konrad) nationalist politics. What he discovered is a once-patriotic man so horrified by the war his country started that he became sympathetic to Germany’s victims. The elder Jarausch died of typhoid in a POW camp.
Also new and noteworthy:
Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the Nazi SS, by Jonathan Maxwell (Milennial Mind, paper, $25.95)
The Bugs are Burning: The Role of Eastern Europeans in the Exploitation, Subjugation and Murder of Their Jewish Neighbors During the Holocaust, by Dr. Sheldon Hersh and Dr. Robert Wolf (Devora, cloth, $21.95)