MAX AND HELEN by Simon Wiesenthal


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From the files of Nazi-hunter Wiesenthal: a small story which--despite (or perhaps because of) its flat, undramatic, often-awkward telling here--delivers an enormous impact. Wiesenthal recalls how, in 1961, a stranger on a train hinted that among the important men at a certain German factory was someone hiding a Nazi-war-crimes past. With a little undercover work, the man was quickly identified as Werner Schulze, head of personnel. But Wiesenthal needed to track down eyewitnesses to Schulze's crimes as commandant of the small Zalesie labor camp in the Ukraine. And the only survivor he could find was a pale, grim doctor now living in Paris (""let's call him Max""), who first simply refused to testify, then agreed to tell Wiesenthal everything and let him decide whether or not to pursue Werner Schulze. Most of this short book, then, is Max's story as told to Wiesenthal--and the dialogue is often stiff, with preachy digressions (by Wiesenthal) into generalized Holocaust history. But the tale itself is a searing one, with the chilling time-span of fable and the elemental inevitability of Greek tragedy: Max and his beautiful fiancÉe Helen were both prisoners at the Zalesie camp, where Schulze was indeed a sadistic murderer; urged on by Helen, who had to stay with her crippled sister, Max managed to escape--only to spend ten years in Soviet labor-camps and exile (for speaking out against anti-Semitism); and, once free, he searched for Helen, learned that she was alive, arrived at her doorstep after almost 20 years. . . and was greeted by an 18-year-old boy, the spitting image of Werner Schulze. So now: the quandary. Should Wiesenthal prosecute Schulze--in a trial that will bare all secrets? Or should he let him go--in order to protect Helen and her son (a fervently Jewish lad who has no idea that he is really the result of a Nazi's rape)? And even more affecting: the dilemma of Max and Helen--who, still in love after all this time, will stay apart. . . because Max can't bear the sight of Helen's son. Sometimes clumsily written (perhaps partly a translation problem), but a simple, awful story that sticks in the mind like a childhood nightmare.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow