I’ve discovered that part of the art of promoting books is to post pictures of the large, rapt audience at the book launch. Last night I attended the launch celebration of a fine historical book, Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938–1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. The audience was indeed enthusiastic and numerous—standing room only in a spacious hall! Here’s a photo from my point of view:

Hoeber Book Launch #1

As you can tell, I converted the standing room only into sitting-on-the-floor room only. The author, Francis W. Hoeber, was giving a spirited presentation from somewhere behind those heads.

The heart of the book is a collection of letters between Hoeber’s father, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1938, and his mother, who was trapped in Germany for another year with her young daughter. These letters, which Hoeber discovered accidentally in his mother’s file cabinet many decades later, form a moving and detailed view of daily life under the Nazis and the complicated maneuvers that people performed to escape persecution. It’s one Holocaust story with a happy ending, in that all the main characters survive. Hoeber adds his own lucid commentary, rich with historical and personal information. Most of all, the book is enlivened by the personalities that emerge from the letters, including his mother’s acerbic wit. If wit were only as lethal as guns, that lady could have defeated the Nazis by herself.

Since the author is a friend of a friend, I did summon the energy to stand up after a while to see him:


That’s Frank Hoeber at the lectern with an image of his father on the screen. The volume has a number of interesting photos and facsimiles, and it’s nicely designed and printed.

For anyone who’s interested, here are some links:

Fondness for a Show

November 27, 2010

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

A press of work in the day job has kept me from this blog awhile. Looking back, I see that my last post was a frivolous one on November 11, Veterans née Armistice Day. In my own defense I can point out that I’m frequently unaware of the date and even the day of the week. On holidays I look around and wonder why the office is empty. My cell phone, which displays date and time, tells me as I begin writing that it’s 11/27 and 12:06, and only by close attention to the punctuation marks can I figure out which is which.

Thus a much-too-late note for Armistice Day, or perhaps an early post for Chanukah-Christmas. (Thanksgiving gets ignored, I’m afraid. Football and food induce sleep, not bloggery.)

In earlier posts I’ve mentioned the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, who, though personally safe from the Holocaust, killed himself in despair in 1942, soon after finishing his memoir The World of Yesterday. Below is an excerpt from his chapter about the onset of World War I, the war to end wars that brought us the Veterans Day that we now use to remember many subsequent wars. What’s striking is the innocent belief that things were going to be all right, even after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that sparked the conflagration.

The coffins of the murdered royalty were quietly taken to Artstetten and interred there. Vienna, whose perpetual fondness for a show was thus deprived of a great opportunity, had already begun to forget the tragic occurrence. … In less than a week, however, attacks suddenly began to appear in the newspapers, and their constantly mounting crescendo was regulated too consistently for them to have been entirely accidental. The Serbian government was accused of collusion in the assassination, and there were veiled hints that Austria would not permit the murder of its supposedly beloved heir-apparent to go unavenged. One could not escape the impression that some sort of action was being prepared in the newspapers, but no one thought of war. Neither banks nor business houses nor private persons changed their plans. Why should we be concerned with these constant skirmishes with Serbia which, as all knew, arose out of some commercial treaties concerned with the export of Hungarian pigs? My bags were packed so that I could go to [poet Emile] Verhaeren in Belgium, my work was in full swing, what did the dead Archduke in his catafalque have to do with my life? The summer was beautiful as never before and promised to become even more beautiful—and we all looked out upon the world without a care. I can recall that on my last day in Baden I was walking through the vineyards with a friend, when an old wine-grower said to us: “We haven’t had such a summer for a long time. If it stays this way, we’ll get better grapes than ever. Folks will remember this summer!”

He did not know, the old man in his blue cooper’s smock, how gruesomely true a word he had spoken.

(Bison Books edition, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964)

What would Zweig make of today’s maneuvering in the Mideast and the Korean peninsula? Perhaps even more to the point, would he see in our “perpetual fondness for a show” a way of deluding ourselves about the future?