As imperative as this book is, it doesn't exactly make for joyous reading. The more one reads, the more one is reminded of just how cruel, vile and harrowing mankind can sometimes be towards one another. Equally frightening, is the ghastly repetition with which society is so readily capable of such behaviour; not to mention the anaesthetized reaction it so often bequeaths. After all, the Nazis did systematically murder some six million Jews because of some unspeakable, vacuous and deplorable ideology. So one would think it plausible that the world might have learnt something; or at least come to terms with such controlled cruelty and chaos – which Gordon J. Horwitz's Ghettostadt: Lodz And The Making Of A Nazi City (unflinchingly) depicts masterfully.
As author of The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity, Charles S. Maier writes: ''Even after so many accounts and interpretations of the Holocaust, we owe Horwitz a great debt as he dispassionately examines the most contentious issues, including [...] the negligible options for resistance, and the vain hope of playing for time.''
Indeed, one would have to be dispassionate in writing a book such as this. As already mentioned, it makes for imperative reading (if society is to learn anything), but not particularly joyous reading: ''To recall the events long afterward is to be reminded of the inadequacy of language in gaining psychological purchase on such outbursts of cruelty as would characterize these initial assaults on human dignity, human life, and human limb. The German victory was understood to have granted license for open attacks on Jews wherever one might find them: in the streets or even rousted violently from their own homes, to be hauled away for the carnivalesque enjoyment of the mocking citizenry and soldiery who would gather round to watch or to participate in the spectacle.''
And we wonder why Britain has evolved into the so-called ''broken society,'' where ''happy slapping'' is surely nothing other than the cruelty of ''carnivalesque enjoyment.'' Might it not have something to do with the nonchalent acceptance and mass marketing of cruelty – starting with Eastenders and ending with someone being kicked to death every weekend?
Within these pages, is the sort of heartbreaking and lucid narrative, that is not that far removed from much of what is going on in the world today; the one difference being the sheer systematic scale of (the Nazis) cruelty: ''These voices did not whisper and they did not seduce, for the spirit that animated them was indifferent to the innocence of its prey. It just swept the children away, not ''one, by one, by one,'' but batch by startled and terrified batch.''
Since the liberation of Lodz and the rest of Poland, the world has witnessed harrowing abomination in Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Bosnia, Rwanda and Iraq to name but just a few. Again, the atrocities perpetrated were/are not on the same scale as the Holocaust, but they're atrocities nevertheless.
In and of itself, this suggests that mankind has essentially learnt very little from the Second World War, which is why this book is so very valuable.
Ghettostadt is a heartbreaking reminder of what can happen when power evolves into madness. And if what is happening in current day Zimbabwe is not madness, then I really don't know what is.
Ghettostadt - Lodz And The Making Of A Nazi City
By Gordon J. Horwitz
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press - £19.95