German Jew

Michael Irwin

  • The Missing Years by Walter Laqueur
    Weidenfeld, 281 pp, £5.95, March 1980, ISBN 0 297 77707 6
  • Jack be nimble by Nigel Williams
    Secker, 213 pp, £5.50, March 1980, ISBN 0 436 57155 2
  • Identity Papers by Anthony Cronin
    Co-op Books, 194 pp, £4.50, February 1980, ISBN 0 905441 23 0
  • Narrow Rooms by James Purdy
    Black Sheep Books, 185 pp, £5.95, March 1980, ISBN 0 906538 60 2
  • Six Moral Tales by Eric Rohmer, translated by Sabine d’Estrée
    Lorrimer, 252 pp, £4.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 85647 075 9

The Missing Years attempts to show what it was like to be a Jew in Germany during the first 45 years of this century. Dr Richard Lasson, the narrator, traces his own career from front-line service in the First World War, through the mounting uncertainties and perils of the Twenties and Thirties to desperately precarious survival in Berlin during the Second World War. Walter Laqueur is Director of the Institute of Contemporary History, and effectively The Missing Years, his first novel, is history masquerading as fiction masquerading as autobiography. The fictional impulse seems slight: Dr Lasson, scarcely individualised, is less a protagonist than a spectator. The writing is often colourless: ‘A1l this time our life was hanging by a thread’; ‘I felt drawn as if by a magnet to the young lady at my side.’ But the narrative is pretty continuously absorbing for what it tells us about everyday life in Hitler’s Germany and, in particular, about the predicament, the reactions and the motivation of the doomed Jewish community. The value of the book lies in the information that it assembles: about the popular songs of the period, say, or the range of the Messerschmidt, or the bombing of the zoo, or the number of Jews living in Berlin. Perhaps the quasi-fictional mode is the most effective means of linking and mobilising such data. In its aims and method The Missing Years is very reminiscent of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, and it has something of the density and verisimilitude of that work. But Defoe’s handling of anecdote and descriptive detail agitates the imagination as Dr Lasson’s rather flat story-telling does not.

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