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Title: Nazi Laws And Jewish Lives; Letters From Vienna

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Title: Nazi Laws And Jewish Lives; Letters From Vienna
Author: Edith Kurzweil
Publisher: Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J.


Hannah Ahrendt wrote about the banality of evil – the “ordinariness” of the everyday occurrences of evil behavior that befell Jews under the Nazi regime. Anne Frank wrote of the everyday goodness experienced in her young life from simple joys.

Edith Kurzweil’s book of letters and laws paints the horrific picture of what befell us without ever having to be explicit. This collection of letters, handed to her when her mother was ninety-two years of age, accurately portrays the experiences of just one family – a snapshot into history, and the courage of the victims who describe their situations in letters that they knew would be opened and read by censors.

The first portion of Nazi Laws and Jewish Lives includes the series of letters written from April, 1940, through November, 1941.

We read about the dehumanization of Jews through the Nuremberg Laws. Although Kurzweil only lists some of numbers 85 through 345, we get the idea. As matters progressed from bad to worse, Jews were prohibited from riding on public transport (except, of course, cattle cars to their deaths), telephones (both public and private), ordinary food shopping (except a limited one hour period, during which the shelves in the stores were almost guaranteed to be empty), banned from gainful employment and banned, of course, from legal emigration.

It was not like today’s time of almost instantaneous communication – telephone, television, Internet. Information was scarce and hard to come by, not least because of the war. Family members were concerned about obtaining high-priced visas and travel documents as well as funding the high cost of steamship travel for desperate relatives trying to escape. There was great concern for those elderly members who were suffering infirmities, and the scarcities of essential foodstuffs.

Even when American family members were successful in getting food packages delivered to their German, Austrian and other European relations, the Nazi regimes cruelly deducted these from the normally rationed caloric allowances – already having been reduced because the recipients were Jewish.

We read many new books of “Holocaust Literature” that bluntly scream of killings, incineration and catastrophe. This book very quietly whispers of the simple banality of everyday evil in the lives of the victims of the Shoah.

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