Good Neighbors, Bad Times: Echoes of My Father's German Village
Mimi Schwartz. University of Nebraska Press, $24.95 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-1374-6
When Schwartz's (Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed) father was born in 1898, half of his native German Black Forest farming village of 1,200 was Jewish and religious. Many years later, as a secular American, he continued to revere his birthplace, where he insisted Jews and Gentiles got along beautifully despite the ugly reach of Nazism. To reconcile this paradox and to reclaim her father's village for herself, the author recorded stories of Jews and Gentiles in New York City, Germany and Israel and discovers that her father's villagers, while not overwhelmingly brave or altruistic, managed to perform small acts of kindness or defiance during the Nazi years, such as a policeman who saved two Torahs or carpenters who fixed Jewish windows after Kristallnacht. Schwartz's decision to refer to her father's village by pseudonym is a serious misstep in a book that tries to sort historical truths from fiction. Her writing is genial and lucid and her aim to understand how decent people remember a dishonorable past is worthy, but Schwartz's penchant for lobbing softball questions at her interviewees' is frustrating and her book seems more a cozy kaffeeklatsch than a rigorous historical examination. Photos.
Reviewed on: 03/03/2008