Books by Aaron Freiwald

Released: March 28, 1994

The story of an SS war criminal, seen through the eyes of Holocaust survivors, and how it took 50 years to bring him to justice. Joseph Schwammberger's trial at Stuttgart in 1992 marks the end of an era: in the future, Nazi war criminals will be too old to indict or their victims will be unable to identify them with certainty. Freiwald (freelance journalist) and Mendelsohn (legal counsel for the Simon Wiesenthal Center) base their account on interviews with several of the survivors who gave evidence at Stuttgart. What emerges is both an exercise in Jewish soul- searching and a history of Schwammberger's atrocities. The story gains poignancy as the authors blend the details of Schwammberger's life and those of the survivors, although it's sometimes difficult to sort out what's happening. They stress Schwammberger's ordinariness in order to force us to ponder the terrible enigma of the Holocaust and ask what the concept of justice can mean in the wake of such an enormous ``crime.'' We learn how Schwammberger oversaw the liquidation of the Jews of Rozwadow in Poland and publicly shot their rabbi on Yom Kippur because he had abstained from work on the holy day. And how he went from door to door with his dog and armed guards through the ghetto at Przemysl, using tear gas and smoke to force hundreds to be herded into the trains or to be shot. Schwammberger was arrested at the end of the war, but he escaped and made his way to 50 years of refuge in Argentina. The authors discuss at length the Realpolitik that allowed him to be left in peace. Politics again led to Schwammberger's extradition and arrest. The scene of the survivors confronting their tormentor in court becomes for our authors a paradigm of how Germany—and the world—needs to face the past, work through and digest it, and never repeat it. A grim book that weighs vital questions of guilt, responsibility, and forgiveness. Read full book review >