THE MISSION by Hans Habe


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Whether or not The Mission will have the impact of The Deputy (the publisher's hope) this could easily be Habe's strongest novel since the incident on which it is based- carries the book well past his traditional if limited powers as a novelist. It is also little, if at all, known and the fact that it is not becomes another source of uneasy speculation: 200 foreign correspondents covered the Evian Conference, at which the Germans offered to sell 40,000 Austrian Jews at two hundred and fifty dollars a head, and only three newspapers reported the seven day conference-- minimally. These facts (and the attending functionaries, etc.) all document this novel which is historical in the original sense of the term. History stops, and the story starts at this point with the delegation of Professor Heinrich von Benda, a Viennese urologist, as the representative of the Jewish community. Both the conference and Benda are terminal cases to begin with. Benda has been unwilling to jeopardize his life whether earlier, in jail, witnessing the death of one Jew, or now, for his race. He has a serious heart condition which the conference aggravates (also the reunion, in Switzerland, with his daughter who had ""disappeared"") and he is anxious to return home to his young, Gentile wife. The conference at which some thirty nations assemble, only to evade and temporize, goes by default-- nobody really wants the Jews. Habe's point made here is that ""inhumanity does not begin... with the destruction of human lives."" They had already been declared worthless on the open international market... Habe attended the conference and his novel is a fac(t) simile of everything that took place during this week in 1938. It reads with unremitting interest, surprise and controlled censure. It would seem that the heroic impulse and the humanitarian gesture come down to the instinct of sauve qui peut and self-interest.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1966
Publisher: Coward-McCann