Sep 2007 Journal

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A labour of love

Researched, written, illustrated and published by Gerhard Salinger, New York, 2006. 4 volumes, 1,213pp. Enquiries to Dr Rita Scheller, Husarenstr. 26, 30163, Hanover, Germany

Researched, written, illustrated and published by Gerhard Salinger, New York, 2006. 2 volumes, 776pp.

Researched, written, illustrated and published by Gerhard Salinger, New York, 2003. Supplement, 197pp.

These books, of which I have been the fortunate recipient because Gerhard Salinger hails, as I do, from Pomerania (Hinterpommern), are an extraordinary achievement. Scrupulously researched and presented in a straightforward yet scholarly fashion, they are a unique resource for anyone seeking information about a multitude of villages and towns. Indeed, in the volumes devoted to Pomerania (the eastern part of which is now part of Poland) one finds lists of people who lived in the Jewish communities before the war and, so far as the author was able to ascertain, what their fate was.

The books are all the more extraordinary because Gerhard Salinger is a tax accountant and not a professional historian. He was born in 1922 in a town that used to be called Stolp, not far from my place of birth, Köslin (now Koszalin). There he witnessed the deportation in 1942 of the remaining Jews, including his parents, from his town to ‘the East’, the destination thought to have been Auschwitz, where he himself survived between 1943 and 1945. The impetus for the Pomeranian books, which are written in German, was commemorative and historical. They are indeed a labour of love.

Salinger has travelled widely to gather his information and to photograph any remaining synagogues and what is left of cemeteries, gravestones and various Jewish artefacts. His books, especially those devoted to Hungary, are generously provided with photographs of each town or village, and they provide a poignant reminder of the widespread destruction of Jewish life by the Nazis.

The volumes about Pomerania are dedicated to ‘all who were murdered during the terror years of 1940-1945’. Part 1 begins with a map dating back to 1932 and an 84-page introduction on the history of Jews in Pomerania, from the thirteenth century right up to the middle of the Second World War. I found this story, with all its ups and downs, absorbing. The rest of this and successive volumes describe individual communities in considerable detail, with numerous photographs, lists of names and dates of death. The four volumes are perhaps not always organised in the most logical way, but the reader should have no difficulty in extracting the information he/she seeks as all is revealed in the index.

Whilst the books on Pomerania were clearly prompted by the author’s life there during his first 20 years, the Hungarian volumes have a less immediate personal provenance. Gerhard Salinger tells me that they came about not so much by choice as by opportunity. In the 1990s he had joined several groups touring European countries, and between Budapest and Bratislava the hotel-based driver stopped off at places that had once included sizeable Jewish communities. This was the beginning of a driver-researcher collaboration that took in not only Hungary but also Slovakia, Romania, Moravia and, this year, Carpatho-Ukraine. Hungary was the starting point and, no doubt, further books on some of the other countries may be expected. A book on West Prussia is now ready for publication.

The books about Hungary are written in English and a relatively brief introduction places the detailed accounts of the Jewish communities in their more general context. Whereas the mass deportations in Germany began in 1941-42, Hungarian Jews lived a relatively charmed life until 1944. A puppet government composed of the most rabidly anti-Jewish fascist leaders (the Pfeilkreuzler) was then installed and was only too ready to accept Eichmann’s orders. Deportations were readily organised by the government and carried out by Hungarian gendarmes, who accompanied the trains to the Hungarian border on their way to Auschwitz (reminiscent of the way in which Vichy France anticipated the requirements of the Germans). The operation was conducted with such efficiency that within three to four months all Jews had been removed from the country, with the exception of Budapest, where many managed to survive until liberation by the Russians.

The remainder of this and the second volume, as well as the supplement, give succinct accounts of numerous local Jewish communities and descriptions of what is left of them. Thus there is a plethora of photographs of restored synagogues, devastated cemeteries and surviving individual gravestones – an extraordinary and easily assimilated body of information and a valuable resource for laymen and professional researchers alike.

The number of copies of these books printed is small and, with the author’s permission, I have donated my copies to the Wiener Library, where they will be available to anyone who wishes to consult them. 

Leslie Baruch Brent

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