By: Bernard Otterman
Publisher: Liber Novus Press
Publication Date: October 2014
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: November 12, 2014
It was always her father’s moods that had disrupted the family dynamic. Indeed she had left as a young woman to head to Santa Fe to become a potter. Father never wanted to join the family celebrations, even when she’d finally settled down and married Rubin. “I can’t enjoy myself among ‘goyim.’” There was always something, something maddening about him. He was a Holocaust survivor, but his moodiness was still annoying. Time had marched by and she had two children, boys, her mother had passed away, but the moodiness remained. Father hated Germans, gentiles weren’t on his list of favorites, and he insisted ‘Goishe’ (Christian) nations “looked the other way during the Holocaust.”
The family moved to Merrick. It was closer to Father, but he still was surrounded by an aura of distrust and hatred. There weren’t going to be any “meaningful ties with him,” no matter what transpired. It was Rosh Hashanah and he finally agreed to come for a visit. During dinner the talk unfortunately turned to the Holocaust. “Come this fall, Larry will be studying the Holocaust in Hebrew school.” Nothing but tommyrot according to Father because no way anyone who hadn’t experienced it, couldn teach it. There had been little undecipherable snippets over the years that were clues to the man.
Mother, in the heat of arguments, had thrown out insults like “echtige sonder” and snapped that he was a “’sonder man.’” Nem, they knew nothing about the Holocaust and neither did his flippant daughter who had supposedly studied it. “What do you know about the ‘Sonderkommandos?’” She knew that in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Father had been, there were “groups of inmates who were forced by the Germans to remove the bodies from the gas chambers and burn them in the crematoriums or the open pits nearby.” It was the work of the devil and they were as evil as the SS in her mind. It finally came out ... Father had volunteered to be a Sondercommando. Had the man sold his soul to the devil for clean sheets and a shower?
Bernard Otterman’s characters and their experiences during a period of history’s darkest moments whirl through these pages. My mind, like that of anyone who will be turning these pages, whirled with emotion and questions. There was the woman who chose to lose a part of herself to save her son, the mystical tale of the creation of a golem, a man whose guilt overwhelmed him when he thought he killed his sister, and yet another of a teen struggling with the fact that his grandfather had been an SS commandant. The tales, all exquisitely penned, somehow take on the same tone, asking me to think about the philosophical questions and dilemmas each presented. As I read, I thought little about them, but each time I put the book down I did.
For example, when I read about that teen, who was trying to build a Lego Lager (concentration camp) to soothe his soul over the idea of the fact he was related to an SS commandant, it brought to mind the film Hitler’s Children. The sins of the father’s cannot be owned by the children, nor can any of them atone for them. A Joseph Conrad quote, buried in the pages poignantly tied the tales together: “all humanity was bound together—the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.” Many times I hear people complain that they’ve heard it all when one talks about the Holocaust, but they have not yet heard Bernard Otterman.
Quill says: This is an amazing collection of historical Holocaust fiction that needs to be heard!
For more information on Inmate 1818 and Other Stories, please visit the author's website at: www.bernardotterman.com