One of the few Jewish survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto is Germany’s main literary critic, or “Pope of German letters”, Marcel Reich-Ranicki. In his remarkable biography “The Author of Himself: The Life of Marcel Reich-Ranicki” (Princeton University Press 2001), he described in his own unpretentious way the incredible situation of the people in the Ghetto and his and his young wife Tosia’s miraculous escape from hell (Umschlagplatz) only minutes before being deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka’s extermination camp. Reading this is both thrilling and mortifying. The industrial perfection of genocide, the Holocaust of Jews and others will forever, at least for the coming generations, be the inhumane stain on Germany and Germans. The crime of the century (the 20th) is not comparable with anything else although I painfully remember anti-Semitic sentiments of former colleagues in the Middle East that it is; I respect their opinion but do not share: Gaza must not yet be compared with the Warsaw Ghetto, of course .
What is more amazing with Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s biography is his deep love for his and all the Jews’ German tormentors’ literature and composed music. Is it a sort of love-and-hate relationship? Does he want to prove that human bestiality and striving for the highest cultural achievements does not exclude each other? Has he forgiven “the” (or some) Germans or is he paying back when publicly delivering his often harsh judgments on hopefuls in the literature business ?
What does this have to do with hope and change and yes we can? President Obama has slipped up a second time yesterday, after pardoning CIA agents last month for having applied torture-like, so-called enhanced, interrogation techniques to detainees in the war on terror. In a 180-degree U-turn he now tries to prevent the release of dozens of photographs taken in prison and camps outside Abu Ghuraib which might show the world public the notorious abuse of detainees. His generals in Afghanistan and Iraq may have convinced him that further anti-American sentiments may cost U.S. citizens their lives.
The last culprits of Nazi Germany, such as notorious John Demjanjuk, will vanish soon. It sometimes takes many decades, but it is hoped that truth will be unearthed sooner or later anyway. Even as regards the crimes or alleged crimes by the former U.S. administration.
 The reality of the Warsaw Ghetto, as described by Reich-Ranicki, is not even comparable with the description of a world falling apart in Paul Auster’s “In the Country of Last Things”, an author who had rightfully been praised by Reich-Ranicki.
 I have met Professor Reich-Ranicki once, so far. It must have been about at that time when he was correcting the page proofs of his biography. He was a patient in the hospital where I was working at that time, but I had not been his doctor. It was interesting that he mistook me as “his” doctor, and so I had the opportunity to chat a bit with him until he noticed his misconception. He won’t remember the short encounter but for me it was moment I won’t forget easily: his strong and unbroken personality, but a bit different from his sometimes, well, arguable televised appearances.
See also on this blog
Schicksalstag. How Germans try to deal with November 9.