The nightmare of German history creeps up on a family in this agonizing drama.
Born into a Germany steeped in genteel anti-Semitism, young Chaim Itzig resolves to abandon his Jewishness forever by changing his name to Christian Luftmann, converting with his wife Lotte to Catholicism and starting over in the pretty town of Dachau. There he prospers as an investment banker and a pillar of church and community, and congratulates himself for building an unassailably German identity. His masquerade turns darkly ironic after World War I, when economic collapse and civil war between communists and right-wing militias prompt his daughter Fanny and her war-hero husband Sepp, who know nothing of her parents’ buried past, to gravitate to the embryonic Nazi party and its promise of order and national revival. The growth of Nazi power and Sepp’s rise in the party hierarchy pose clear dangers to Christian—his family is not only ethnically Jewish but includes a feeble-minded sister who should be euthanized, according to Nazi doctrine—but his confidence in his ability to navigate the turmoil persists until he finally faces an appalling dilemma that he can’t finesse. Rubinstein infuses the narrative with a perceptive sense of history, showing how Nazism gelled out of an ambient racism and authoritarianism, Darwinian social theories, political chaos, class rancor and the longing to avenge a humiliating defeat and regain the mystical camaraderie of the trenches. Yet even as her characters imbibe this noxious brew, they remain complex and sympathetic: some join the Nazis out of fanaticism and hatred, some swoon over Hitler’s charisma, some cannily seize an opportunity to improve their status and prospects and some sign up because of a genuine sense of patriotism. Rubinstein gives us not just a moving saga of German Jewry in extremis, but a subtle, haunting account of how, little by little, out of the most human of motives, a whole society lost its soul.
A quietly harrowing dissection of the Nazi madness.