H.G. ADLER by Peter Filkins


A Life in Many Worlds
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Biography of a prolific Czech-born writer who bore eloquent witness to the Holocaust.

Translator and poet Filkins (Literature and Creative Writing/Bard Coll. at Simon’s Rock; The View We’re Granted, 2012, etc.) offers an authoritative, deeply empathetic life of H.G. Adler (1910-1988), a poet, fiction writer, and scholar who devoted himself to chronicling the atrocities of the Holocaust. Beginning in 1942, Adler was held for 32 months in Theresienstadt, described by Filkins as “a holding space in which to extract wealth, labor, and camouflage for the extermination camps that it fed”; he later was imprisoned in Auschwitz and two other concentration camps. “If I survive, then I will describe it,” he vowed, both as a well-researched work of scholarship and “in poetic manner” as fiction. “To live as a participant and to live as an observer,” he wrote to his wife, who, along with her family and Adler’s parents, perished in the camps. “It’s really like they are two different people.” Adler began to record his experiences even while at Theresienstadt, collecting, as well, whatever documents he could find regarding the camp’s administration. When he realized he was being sent to Auschwitz, he left the papers with Leo Baeck, the most esteemed rabbi in Germany, who arrived at Theresienstadt in 1943 and whose prominence Adler believed might insure his survival. In addition to safeguarding the material, Baeck, who “maintained that Judaism was a religion free of dogma,” helped Adler to think through his connection to religion and identity as a Jew. Filkins describes in harrowing detail the suffering and sadism experienced by camp inmates: grueling slave labor, starvation, disease, whippings, and the ever present specter of death. After the war, Adler worked tirelessly on his writing. By 1948, he completed Theresienstadt 1941-1945, which was followed by several novels. Although he failed to find support from major publishers, by the time he died, more than 20 books had appeared, and he had forged a career as a lecturer on Jewish culture and the Holocaust.

A well-deserved celebration of a courageous and determined public intellectual.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-19-022238-3
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2019


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