An Epistolary Novel about anti-Semitism and the Development of the German "Volksgemeinschaft" by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor.
The novel consists of the letters which two friends write to each other between November 1932 and March 1934. Max Eisenstein lives in San Francisco, Martin Schulse in Munich. The latter has only recently, in 1932, returned from California to his German homeland. In the United States, both friends jointly managed an art gallery, and Martin remains co-owner even after he moved away. Within a few months and a couple of letters, Martin becomes almost unrecognisable. Having become a member of the National Socialist Party, he pours anti-Semitic insults over Max and says that he won't have any further correspondence. Max is desperate, he does not understand this transformation. Nevertheless, out of fear for his sister who lives in Berlin and who Martin once had a love affair with, he turns to him again and asks him to protect her. Martin, however, leaves her to the SA. Max decides to take revenge on Martin.
The fictitious story was first published in the American literature journal "Story" in 1938. On sixty pages it anticipates the future annihilation of the Jews, without exactly reflecting the historical facts about discrimination, exclusion and murder. In a minimal narrative style, Kressmann Taylor shows with astounding far-sightedness how nationalist, racist and anti-Semitist resentments turn into open aggression and how mere supporters and opportunists turn into perpetrators. However, she also shows how easy and efficient revenge can be.
In a foreword, German literary critic Elke Heidenreich argues in favour of including the novel into school reading lists. However, this view seems arguable . The minimal narrative style of the author and the form of an epistolary novel make the quick transformation of Martin seem rather implausible. Furthermore, there are numerous original sources to illustrate topics like "everyday anti-Semitism in the Third Reich" or "development of the Volksgemeinschaft" that make it unnecessary to revert to a fictional story for the purpose of teaching history. Nevertheless, the publication under review is an interesting book, and students as well as adults will benefit from reading it.