IN THE LION'S DEN: The Life of Oswald Rufiesen by Nechama Tec

IN THE LION'S DEN: The Life of Oswald Rufiesen

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The porous wartime record of a man of extraordinary heroism, conviction, and psychotheological confusion. The only recommended aspect of this biography is the plot outline. We get, in the person of Oswald Rufiesen, a war hero turned monk, an Israeli who wore the Nazi uniform, and a Jew who is a Catholic priest: While the narrative lines of so many WW II memoirs seem comparatively less compelling, author Tec (Sociology/U. of Conn. at Stamford) does not successfully compensate for the intimacy and drama provided in those first-person accounts. In a rather dry, almost journalistic, tone, we read about Rufiesen's secular Jewish upbringing in Austrian-occupied Poland. It is difficult to be shocked subsequently by Rufiesen's conversion to Christianity and service with the German police when we find young Oswald attending church with Christian friends and immersed in German culture at school. There is some interest generated in the subject's underground activities for Poles and Jews, and some fine documentation of Lithuanian collaboration with Nazi mass murders. Given the later emphasis on Rufiesen's oxymoronic religious identity, however, Tec--herself a WW II survivor, who spent the war years in Poland passing as a Christian--misses the opportunity to delve into her subject's complex psyche and his subsequent motivations for conversion, taking monastic vows, and emigration to Israel. At a time when overburdened publishers are turning down Holocaust memoirs by our last remaining survivors, it is sad to see a biography lacking craft and insight getting published on the merit of its quirkiness.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press