WHO SHALL LIVE by Samuel Oliner

WHO SHALL LIVE

The Wilhelm Bachner Story
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 The dramatic, if overly dramatized, account of a ``Jewish Oskar Schindler'' who rescued many Jews during the Holocaust. Holocaust survivor and scholar Oliner (The Altruistic Personality, 1988) and political scientist Lee (both at Humboldt State University) have turned their Holocaust research and survivor interviews into a fairly engaging narrative. The book's protagonist is Wilhelm Bachner, a German-educated Polish Jew who successfully masquerades as a gentile Pole. Using his position as an engineer for a firm that does vital repair work in Nazi factories, Bachner is able to hire, hide, and save over 50 Jews during the war. A good fraction of those rescued are Bachner's own family, so that his wife is passed off as his mistress and his father is recast as the company cook. All of Bachner's machinations fail to save his younger brother, Bruno, who perishes in a death camp, and the plot is constantly thickened by SS bloodhounds looking for fleeing Jews. Bachner repeatedly bluffs and outwits the Germans. On one occasion, following a Bachner tirade, the cowed SS even apologizes for disrupting his work. The plot is a page-turner, but Oliner and Lee should have hired a scriptwriter to upgrade the re-created dialogue. Holocaust history, including the facts and figures, is unobtrusively inserted into the narrative, as when the firm encounters work crews from forced labor camps or trainloads of Jews headed east for extermination. There is also a bit of comic relief provided, such as when one of the disguised Jews becomes a ``prisoner of love to a rotund Ukrainian'' woman. A happy ending includes Bachner's incredulous supervisor being told, as liberation nears, just how many of his workers were Jews. The book is a noteworthy addition to the literature on Holocaust rescuers, despite its mediocre adoption of fictional techniques to render historical events. (21 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-89733-437-X
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Academy Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996