Saturday 30 November 2013

Stalin's post-war barbarous treatment toward his own people

The following selection could not be included in the first epilogue of That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) for reasons of space.

A Soviet labour camp, one of thousands that constituted the Gulag

Whatever Stalin’s lack of sensitivity to Red Army soldiers sexually assaulting foreign and Soviet women, he was deeply troubled by the thousands upon thousands of soldiers, who, through no fault of their own, had made contact with the West. Those who had encountered Western soldiers, especially American, were treated as though they had been infected with a contagious disease and the only way to lance the virus was to quarantine them in the camps or liquidate through summary execution. As barbarous as the Wehrmacht conducted itself, and as horrific as the conditions of war, where millions of soldiers and civilians alike expired from disease, starvation and cold, they in no way can account for all the deaths on the Soviet side. 
In human lives alone, the war had been extremely costly for the Soviet people. Current estimates indicate that overall Soviet deaths exceeded twenty five million; between eight and eleven million were military casualties and the rest were civilian. Another way of putting it is that 84 percent of the 34.5 million men and women mobilized were killed, wounded or captured. Instead of rewarding its citizens, the Stalinist system demanded more blood. As the war ended, Soviet citizens released from German concentration and death camps, such as Auschwitz, were returned as contaminated prisoners of war to their homeland. Over five million Soviet citizens, among them the forced labourers in Germany, were stranded in occupied Europe. Against their will, at the request of the Soviet Government, the British forcibly repatriated thousands. They even returned émigrés, 20,000 Cossacks with their families, some former White officers, now citizens of other countries, who had fled the Soviet Union twenty-five years earlier. They and their families faced immediate death or a slower one in the camps, and for many, suicide was their only alternative. From the total number stranded, about one half, who voluntarily returned or were repatriated, were either shot or shipped to the Gulag as traitors. How many of them might have thought, like one of the characters in Darkness at Noon who could not believe that he was sent home, that he must have been put on the wrong train? The intellectuals and Jews that returned were greeted with a lingering suspicion and became a new target for the regime’s insatiable need for enemies.
 What starts out as a powerful premisethe repatriation of Soviets living in exile who return to deprivation and repression in the 1999 film East/Westfalters mostly due to its disappointingly conventional ambitions that fail to convey the atmosphere of habitual terror and its lingering effects, focusing, soap-opera-like, on the problems it poses for one family.

Friday 29 November 2013

Popular Discontent with Stalin

This short selection is a counterpoint to the evidence that the propaganda organs under Stalin were able to persuade ordinary people that Stalin was making their life better.

Despite the powerful grip of the Potemkin village fantasy, it became increasingly difficult for workers and peasants to explain the failures when Stalin announced in 1935 that socialism had been achieved. When the glorious future utopia clashed with the ugly and debilitating material and spiritual present, the hopes and the illusions ceded to cynicism and despair. His failure to fulfill material promises for the majority of workers and peasants guaranteed that large numbers of them would not embrace him as a benevolent father figure, or the system that he embodied. Material deprivation fuelled the impulse on the part of workers to express their hostility toward the system and even to Stalin himself. When he delivered his often quoted famous but surreal motto that “Life has become better, life has become merrier,” the myth of a happy people performing great feats and adoring their benevolent leader, he could never have suspected that this slogan would become a source of mockery. Workers appropriated the slogan to scoff at official claims that, “life was not getting better but worse it was [becoming] more expensive every day.” In a letter in 1938, one foreman acknowledged that when workers quoted that phrase, it was “mechanical, made from habit and pumped up by social organizations.”

Discontent expressed in political speeches and the call for strikes reached its peak after the labour decree of 1940. The secret police, the NKVD, reported on leaflets titled, “Down with the government of oppression, poverty and prisons.” Although these reports attempted to attribute the agitation to counter revolutionaries such as Trotskyists, it is clear that the anger expressed dissatisfaction with the regime, and that the country was regressing to capitalism, fascism and even a “second serfdom.” In a working class town, Nadezhda Mandelstam heard Stalin unflatteringly referred to as “the pockmarked fellow,” but in a small town they felt safe expressing negative comments because they knew the identity of the informers. Because many had become so alienated from the regime that they were prone to listen to rumours of imprisoned workers being tortured and began to speak of a “second revolution.” 

It is ironical that Marxism, which originally had been a protest against working class exploitation, morphed under Stalin into a program of centralized, frenetic and driven industrialism that, with labour firings and swift expulsion to concentration camps, involved exploitation by its own dictatorship. Collectivization and the famine had completely soured the peasantry on Stalin as Peasant Enemy No. 1. If he had any illusions that they regarded him as the “good Tsar,” according to Sarah Davies (Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia: Terror, Propaganda and Dissent 1934-1941 Cambridge University Press, 1997), the evidence by the end of the 1930s suggests the contrary.people criticized the poor supply of food and consumer goods, that many workers were hostile to their Stakhanovist colleagues (those who exceeded the production norms). On the famine, he had “screwed things up,” and when Kirov, the popular chief of Leningrad, was murdered in 1934, a large swathe of opinion regretted that Stalin had not been the target. Nonetheless, millions of people learned to adapt to the "Bolshevik speak" and could feel moments of pride toward the Soviet leader as they moved freely between the two worlds of official culture and a "shadow culture."

In the late 1930s with the potential for war looming as a terrible reality, rumours undercut those fears with the suggestion that a war might be welcome if it could assure the overthrow of the current regime. It is tempting to speculate that given the anecdotal impressions of hostility among the Russian peasantry and the much more documented evidence of revulsion among non-Russians in the Soviet Union, had the insane racism of Hitler not dictated policy, then the Germans would have militarily defeated Stalin’s regime. Still, the trauma of the German invasion in June 1941 notwithstanding, it saved the Soviet regime from having to confront a major embarrassment of having to deal with the disaffection of workers, in whose name they ruled, at least until after the war. 

Thursday 28 November 2013

Stalin's colossal misjudgment

The following selection was intended to be included in the first epilogue of That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) but was excluded for reasons of space.

The three Baltic Republics incorporated into the Soviet Union 1940
The terror inflicted on Soviet citizens in the 1930s extended after the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 not only into the eastern half of Poland (while Germany was able to Nazify the western half) but also reached into the Baltic Republics, the Western Ukraine and Byelorussia. The takeover of Latvia in 1940, overseen by Andrei Vyshinsky, the fanatical chief state prosecutor in the Moscow show trials, became a prototype for the violent Sovietization of all states throughout the Soviet sphere of influence, including the satellite states acquired in Eastern Europe after 1945: rigged elections, the closure of churches, confiscation of savings, appropriation of land, the wholesale shipping of valuables to Russia and arrests of political leaders, nationalists and the intelligentsia followed by executions or trips to labour camps. The only options available to prisoners, who consisted of every political stripe and ethnic group, were to “admit or confess.” 

The moral deformation of Sovietization inflicted a price not only in the Baltic Republics, but also throughout the Western part of the Soviet Union because their profound anger rendered their loyalty suspect when the Germans invaded. Disaffection had deep roots in Byelorussia (White Russia) and the Ukraine because large segments of the population were terribly bitter about collectivization and the subsequent famine. In addition, given the ‘mass operations’ in the late 1930s of the ethnic cleansing and executions of Poles, Volga Germans, Latvians and Finns in the West (along with the systematic expulsion of almost all Koreans in the East to Kazakhstan), it is not surprising that so many subject peoples welcomed the Germans as liberators. During the Great Terror of 1937-38, about one-third of the total victims, 800,000 people, were arrested, deported or executed on national grounds. In 1939 when the Soviets seized the western Ukraine as part of the Nazi-Soviet agreement when they carved up Poland, hundreds of thousands were deported or locked up. When an armed uprising occurred in 1941 as the Soviets retreated before the advancing German army, the NKVD murdered between ten and fifteen thousand nationalists languishing in prisons and concentration camps before the Germans arrived. Savage fighting resumed after the Soviets returned in 1944 to complete the task of expropriation and collectivization, and for the next eight years, as many as 600,000 were arrested, one third executed, the rest imprisoned or exiled. 
NKVD officers in the field

Monday 25 November 2013

Two Memoirs of Women Victimized

This material was designed for the first epilogue of  That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) but for reasons of space, it  did not survive the editing process. 
Wanda Póltawska
Among the many accounts of Polish survivors of Nazi terror, who were not perpetrators or bystanders, is the poignant and powerful account by Wanda Póltawska (And I Am Afraid of  my Dreams, Hodder and Stoughton, 1961). She was arrested for being a courier for the Polish resistance, tortured by the Gestapo, spent half a year in prison under appallingly squalid conditions and endured three years in the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany. As filthy as prison had been, she quickly observed “something infinitely worse” in the camp, a netherworld wherein the inmates sometimes did not appear to be either alive or dead:

Those clean, identically shaved heads, those lifeless, expressionless faces. They walked past with indifference, not looking at us, not speaking, not talking, not reacting to our presence in any way. They are nothing but husks, I thought. And there on that square, a silent prayer was wrenched from me: Oh God, if you still have a care for this world, grant that we may keep our own faces in this dreadful place. Never mind our lives, but do not let our spirits die.  

Given their voracious hunger, the malevolence of the guards, the sexual assaults by some prisoners on others, the futility of work that included shifting piles of sand that caused swirling winds to choke their eyes, ears and mouth, it was a struggle not to succumb to being a husk. Hovering above all these appalling conditions were the threat of execution that some of the women welcomed as a release.

What distinguishes Póltawska’s memoir from many others is that as a political prisoner, she was forced to be a guinea pig for many useless medical experiments and to test how much pain a person could endure. Many of her fellow prisoners did not survive the operations. Others, who participated in these grisly experiments, who were not executed and managed to survive the ordeal, were crippled for life. The procedures inflicted on these women consisted of removing their leg bones or injecting them with bacterial cultures in conditions of abysmal filth that would have invalidated any possible scientific results. Only when they demonstrated a resistance to further operations did they feel their spirits returning. As the war neared its end, the guinea pigs were slated for extermination since their presence could be incriminating evidence in any post-war trial. Remarkably, other fellow-prisoners, mainly Russian women, inspired by their courage, saved these women from that fate. Despite her horrific ordeal, Wanda Póltawska not only survived but also was extremely fortunate to return home.

Sunday 24 November 2013

The Backroom Machinations that enabled Hitler to Possess Power

The following selection was excluded from That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) because it did not relate to the overarching thesis of the book but I think the piece's deserves to be posted because of its intrinsic merits.

Gregor Strasser
Expectations were high for the Nazi Party in the summer of 1932, but when they did not achieve instant results and gain power, some of their popular support drifted away so that in the November election that year, they lost two million votes and thirty-four seats. A similar drop in popular support followed in state and municipal elections. Morale fell when large numbers of opportunistic supporters bolted and because of the division within the Party when one of its leaders, Gregor Strasser, resigned. As a leftist within the Party, he chafed at Hitler’s growing accommodation with big business. Even more unsettling, he considered, even though he did not accept, an important cabinet position as Vice Chancellor in the last Weimar cabinet of General Kurt Schleicher, a move that likely would have split the Party. Strasser disagreed with Hitler’s unbending "all-or-nothing" approach when the latter remained adamant that he would never occupy a position in any government unless he was Chancellor. The allurement of power remained too much of an aphrodisiac for Hitler to share it with anyone. It would also have been psychologically impossible for him to even contemplate someone else in the Party occupying a government position while he remained on the outside. Strasser sealed his own fate for upstaging Hitler and earning his enmity when Hitler ordered his murder in the violent purge of June 1934, the Night of the Long Knives. 

Given the mutinies among storm troopers and the rank and file’s growing impatience for not seizing power rather than waiting to achieve it legally, the very real possibility that the Party could fragment and implode was sensed by liberal journalists. The Berlin correspondent from a Frankfurt newspaper declared: “The mighty Nationalist Socialist assault has been repulsed.” Another journalist wrote, “1932 has brought an end to Hitler’s luck,” and confidently expressed that a “guardian angel has saved [the German people] from a dictatorship that would have been the end not merely of German liberty but also of the German spirit.” Their palpable relief was underscored by reports that the Nazis were openly vowing to intern Communists and Social Democrats in concentration camps. 

Saturday 23 November 2013

Why the Nazis Came to Power

Although this piece does not specifically address the personal appeal of Hitler, that factor cannot be minimized as this picture clearly shows

Careful readers of  That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) will note that a few passages of the following is in that text but most of it did not survive the editorial cuts, in part for reasons of space and part because it was peripheral to the overarching thesis of the book.

Contrary to the later official version, fate did not inexorably choose Hitler as Chancellor on January 30. The economic turmoil from the Depression and the shrewd marketing of their program were assets that they exploited. But the weaknesses of the Social Democratic Party and the policy directives from Moscow also made it possible for Hitler to have his rendezvous with destiny. Circumstances largely contributed to increase the National Socialists’ support from a low two-percent in the 1928 election. A fall in agricultural prices that brought poverty and distress to the countryside followed by the Wall Street crash that necessitated Americans calling in their loans which had facilitated reparations payments aggravated an already difficult problem. Their economy having precariously depended upon those loans and being the leading European economy, Germany suffered more severely from the Depression than any country in the world. In 1931 when it appeared that the nation had hit rock bottom, five major banks collapsed and 20,000 businesses failed. Six million were unemployed. Into this morass of abject distress and hopelessness, the Nazis offered order, discipline and the personality of Adolf Hitler. A fringe political party galvanized public support achieving thirty seven percent of the voted in the July 1932 election, making them the largest single party in the Reichstag. True, the Communist Party support had grown substantially, particularly among working class voters, but its atheistic foreign creed anchored in intensifying class conflict in a county that was reeling in divisiveness generated visceral hatred from farmers and the middle class. But their tactics also alienated large numbers of its natural constituency so that the Nazi party became the chief beneficiary.

Friday 22 November 2013

The influences that shaped Hitler's worldview

The following selection could not be incorporated into That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) for reasons of space.

Hitler did absorb the conservative backlash against liberalism and the rampant strains of anti-Semitism that were awash in Vienna at the turn of the century and articulated by two influential politicians. The abiding contempt that he bore toward parliamentary governments originated from the disdain he developed by observing political parties at work in the Viennese legislature. The politicians he most admired, and later influenced his own ideas and style, were populist demagogues who depended for their popularity on their hate-mongering anti-Semitism. One such politician, the pan-German, belligerent drunk, Georg Ritter von Schönerer exploited the ethnic German fears that a Slavic and Jewish majority swamped them, and challenged Germans to breakout of the “zoo” of the multinational Empire and join Germany. Hitler copied Schönerer’s racial anti-Semitism, his hatred of parliamentary democracy and equal rights and his pan-German movement that collectively translated into the disenfranchisement of other ethnic groups.  But Schonerer’s penchant for violence toward political opponents that landed him in jail and his attack on Roman Catholicism alienated many potential supporters. Having grown up in Catholic Austria and both admiring and despising its hierarchical power and ceremonial pomp, Hitler was later careful not to offend the Catholic Church during his rise to power and fastened instead his all-consuming hatred on Jews.  

The mayor of Vienna, the charismatic and gifted orator Karl Lueger, also impressed Hitler with his ability to powerfully reach the emotions of his audience when he addressed a crowd. According to Lueger’s lover, the mayor “was able to transfer his will onto others in almost a supernatural way.” Hitler’s later style and delivery of relating to crowds owed much to the wildly popular Lueger. He also learned from him how to exploit anti-Semitism with his acerbic wit unapologetically declaiming that anti-Semitism would “perish but not until the last Jew has perished.” Despite Hitler’s own repudiation at the time of the blood libel against Jews, Lueger exploited it by pumping the wellsprings of hatred against “the Christ-killers” in the recently enfranchised “little men” steeped in Catholicism whose anti-Semitism was endemic. Notwithstanding the many tributes that Hitler later paid to Lueger in his memoirs, he was critical of the mayor’s employment of religious anti-Semitism, which Hitler regarded as superficial and devoid of racial knowledge as though “a splash of baptismal water” could erase their Judaism. The racial anti-Semitism of Schönerer and his followers would be become a cornerstone of the ideology of the Third Reich that dispensed with the anemic religious strain that flourished in the Austrian Empire of Franz Joseph.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Hitler, Mein Kampf and the Jews

A pared down version of this selection appeared in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden  (Encompass Editions, 2013) but most of it was edited out for reasons of space.

Influenced also by his avatars, Arthur de Gobineau and to a greater degree by Austin Stewart Chamberlain, Hitler set forth a Manichean view of history as a racial struggle between two abstractions or entities, mankind’s highest specimen, the Aryan and its lowest, the powerful and satanic Jew. As the pied piper of a ‘pure’ race, he fulsomely praised the odious fraud, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, convinced by the spurious logic that anyone who denied its authenticity was proof of its veracity. If the Aryans should lose this apocalyptic struggle between heaven and hell, “a bastardized and niggerized world” would destroy all that was “humanly beautiful and sublime” and the “dark veils of an age without culture will again descend on this globe.” It is significant that Hitler attributed astonishing power to the Jews so that when he later embarked on his systematic campaign of destruction against them, he continued to foster the impression that they constituted anything but a weak hapless people who were being needlessly persecuted. Traumatized by injuries that included gassing, the humiliation of defeat and the postwar revolutionary upheaval, the aggrieved zealot fastened his all-devouring rage on traditional images of Jews as war-profiteers and international financiers, as clerks and agitators, whom he held responsible for engendering a mood of defeatism. In keeping with his frequent deployment of bacterial imagery, he warned and prophesied that in the case of a future war, “If the best men were dying at the front, the least we could do was to wipe out the vermin.”

By 1920 with Russian émigrés arriving in Munich and the German publication of the Protocols, Hitler yoked familiar resentments of Jews as bloated profiteers who machinate international finance and gaunt sinister Bolsheviks. In his mind, they were polar twins of the same menace, and developments in Russia demonstrated a dramatic breakthrough for Jews to achieve world domination. In a vivid but unoriginal passage, he melded these fears of the “devil” Jew by evoking the specter of the “blood-Jew[“s] tyranny in establishing Bolshevism “where he killed or starved about thirty million people with positively fanatical savagery, in part amid inhuman tortures, in order to give  a gang of Jewish journalists and stock exchange bandits domination over a great people.” But the Jewish rulers would not be able to maintain their control over their Empire because Jews, being an uncreative could not develop a state but only “a ferment of decomposition…ripe for collapse.” Germany has been chosen to destroy “Jewish Bolshevism,” and at the same time to provide the German people with living space, so that they as a people would not vanish or serve “others as a slave nation.” Instead of pursuing the policies of the Second Reich by extending its influence south or acquiring colonies, in unmistakable terms, Hitler revealed his intention that the new Reich would follow in the footsteps of the Teutonic Knights of the Middle Ages, by “tak[ing] up where we broke up six hundred years ago” and acquiring soil “by the sword” for the land-hungry Germanic peasants through conquering territory in the East.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Alfred Ploetz: Racial Hygiene before 1933

Alfred Ploetz

This selection was excluded from That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) for reasons of space.
The inflammatory rhetoric, that fulminated against “Jewish race polluters,” culminating in legalized apartheid, had generally been confined to the underbrush of hard-core Nazis during the 1920s. Their bellicosity and paranoia about the health of the nation, however, threaded connections to the learned and highly respected members of the scientific elite that included physicians and professors in the postwar era. Even before the war, like their counterparts in Britain, Scandinavia and America, a growing number of eugenicistsphysicians, lawyers, and scientistswere disturbed by the falling birth rate of the so-called gifted members of society. What exercised them even more was the proliferation of individuals suffering from alcoholism, tuberculosis, mental illness and criminality, which threatened social stability or posed a financial burden on society. The majority of physicians, especially in the Wilhelmine prewar era, were not Volkisch racists.

Alfred Ploetz, whose career spanned five decades, started out as a non-Marxist socialist who embraced Darwinism. He sought out improvements in housing, in clothing made from mammals to ward off germs and give the body immunity from infection, and in sanitation, as a way of advancing evolutionary development. But his work as a physician treating childhood diseases, his life- long passion to eliminate the scourge of alcoholism and his acceptance of August Weismann’s germ plasma theory, forced him to concede that environmental changes had limited impact on improving the racial stock. Ploetz, who coined the term racial hygiene in a monograph as early as 1895, believed that scientific solutions, specifically hereditary biology, were the means to control and eradicate polluting germs. Like his colleagues in Britain, Francis Galton, who was a mentor, and Karl Pearson, with whom he maintained contact, he attempted to ensure that the ideology of racial hygiene was not based on cultural myths and racial stereotypes, but on biology. At times, however, he rejected their meritocratic or class-based approach. Still, eugenics in Britain and Germany suffered from the flawed premise that it was possible for selective breeding to improve the capabilities and productivity of one segment of the population while ridding itself of its burdensome element. From this supposition flowed dubious science proclaiming that if people were poor, physically disabled or mentally impaired, survived by working in the sex trade, or even if their family history disclosed any of these conditions, they were genetically programmed to live out desperate lives. It followed that the afflicted could only be kept alive with resources that placed undue sacrifice on others. Even before World War I, scientists such as Ploetz were troubled that the social ills of poverty, vagrancy, alcoholism, violence and crime burdened both the state and the family. The degenerate and the weak were kept alive through sickness insurance, and the family and community were saddled with maintaining the chronically ill and the disabled in institutions.
Francis Galton, who coined the term eugenics

Tuesday 19 November 2013

The deluded Elizabeth Nietzsche: the folly of establishing a German colony in Paraguay

This short selection was to be included in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) but was excluded for reasons of space and it was considered peripheral to the chapter on Wagner .
Elizabeth Nietzsche

The fantasy existed in late nineteenth century Germany that rigid programs of inbreeding and artificial selection could only improve the blood strain. The experiment by the sister, Elizabeth, and the proto-Nazi brother-in-law, Bernard Förster, of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche illustrates the foolish if not tragic consequences of attempting to establish a racially pure Aryan community. Friedrich, who described Elizabeth as a “stupid vengeful creature” and “anti-Semitic goose,” perceived in this experiment everything he hated about German chauvinism and imperialism. Her boorish husband Bernard, who became a convert to Wagnerism in the late 1870s, believed that a rebirth of Germany could not occur in contemporary Germany. True Germans he believed should seek “a better and healthier moral atmosphere.” To this end, “the rebreeding of the German race,” (a phrase that Wagner would have never used), the Försters recruited fourteen gullible German families with blue eyes and blood hair to emigrate in 1886 from Germany and live in a remote colony in the mosquito-ridden and uncleared jungle of Paraguay. Within a few years, the duplicitous and debt-ridden Förster committed suicide, and his stronger but equally foolish wife sold their home and returned to Germany to take care of her increasingly mad brother, leaving the remainder of the poverty stricken and disgruntled colonists to fend for themselves. Isolating themselves from the natives, they interbred so that by 1991 when journalist Ben Macintyre (Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche, London: Macmillan, 1992) visited the colony, he saw the debilitating effects of generations of this inbreeding particularly among the children. Some were clearly intellectually challenged, many were just slow, and physically, he noticed the slack, bespittled jaw, and the results of “the handful of old ‘pure’ German families [who] lived off their dwindling genetic capital.”

Monday 18 November 2013

Anti-Semitism in Nineteenth-Century Germany

The following piece was originally to be included in the chapter on Richard Wagner in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) but was excluded for reasons of space and it was peripheral to my material on the German composer

The liberal inclusiveness underpinning the nationalism that knitted a crazy-quilt pattern of kingdoms, cities and principalities into a single Reich in 1871 spurred the removal of civil and legal disabilities for Jews, a process that had begun in Prussia in 1812, accompanied, unfortunately, by riots. Equipped in theory with the same rights as any other citizen, they could freely enter into the professional, cultural and political mainstream, and their prominence disproportionate to their one percent of the German population, particularly in industry and journalism, produced a chauvinistic backlash by the end of the decade. When Bismarck had extracted five million francs from the French to pay for war reparations arising from its defeat in 1870, he could never have imagined that they would pay it off so quickly, although an army of occupation assuredly served as a powerful motivator. Most of that money fueled a buoyant overheated economy. 
Otto von Bismarck

The unprecedented market euphoria with its manic investment and consumer spending inevitably precipitated an economic collapse whose subsequent doldrums persisted for a decade resulting in widespread unemployment and failed businesses and a search for scapegoats. Jews (and Polish Slavs in the east) became targets of resentment and envy particularly during the market crash of 1873, when impersonal forces and unwise investments were interpreted in personal terms as a swindle even though Jewish influence in banking and heavy industry was at that time almost negligible. But for many who suffered under the new commercial system of capitalism when market forces drove small shopkeepers out of business, or small farmers off the land, the so-called rootless or cosmopolitan Jews, who were concentrated in the cities, were visible symbols of modernity. For liberals, modernity connoted civic equality, freedom of the press, capitalism and industrialism, but to conservatives, it became increasingly associated with degeneracy and the pejorative “asphalt culture.”

Dan Vyleta from historian to novelist

This review appeared in Critics at Large November 20, 2013

Working toward the Fuhrer. It’s the watchword of the age…Who’s to say the [arrested man] isn’t guilty? A little time with us, and I’m sure he will confess.”
—Detective Franz Teuben in The Quiet Twin
Dan Vyletta
As the first part of this epigraph suggests, Dan Vyleta has deftly incorporated into his second novel one of the most important insights of Sir Ian Kershaw’s definitive biography of Hitler. Orders do not have to be explicitly given: citizens should instinctively be able to interpret the wishes of the Fuhrer. If it is not in the best interest of individuals to act in this spiritor if historical circumstances have radically alteredthey must learn to dissemble and wear a mask to protect their secrets. To varying degrees, this aperçu could apply to the characters in the three Vyleta novels.

 As a novelist, Vyleta carries his historical research lightly since he is primarily interested in creating a world. He has accomplished that goal for the most part exceptionally well in his novels: the frigid winter of Berlin 1946-47 in Pavel and I (2009), the early months of 1939 wartime Vienna in The Quiet Twin (2011), and 1948 post-war Vienna in The Crooked Maid (HarperCollins, 2013). He has also peopled his novels with a bevy of idiosyncratic characters that appear to be inspired by his historical research and Dickens, Greene, Dostoevsky and Kafka underlining his European origins: his parents were Czechoslovakian refugees living in Berlin where he was born and he did his doctorate in history at Cambridge before coming to Canada.  Perhaps he owes his greatest debt, though he does not mention it, to the 1949 film, The Third Man, written by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed. The black and white film noir quality of that film is an avatar to the atmosphere and plot of his novels.