A Family Madness

A Family Madness by Thomas Keneally

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Authors: Thomas Keneally
a beloved and wise occupier. In fact once the Germans permit us our Republic he won’t get too many mentions.
    Would have thought his place tomorrow would be, if not out on the Gomel road, at least at his desk in town. There are historical imperatives in operation which no man can evade, even if he can send the children on a picnic. But to go on a picnic himself indicates he does not understand this swine of a century at all. The fact you can’t get anything done anymore unless you get mud on your boots.
    There is also the matter of the Kommissar’s Jewish driver. Am broad-minded about personal morality. Hope Ganz’s superiors at the Reichkommissariat headquarters in Minsk and way up in Riga are equally well disposed to him.
    Also waiting for me, home, with only half hour before guests arrive, Sergeant Jasper, the young Wehrmacht sergeant attached to my office. Seemed distraught, and agreed with uncustomary quickness that he needed a drink. That afternoon he’d visited the ghetto down by the river—he was not supposed to, but some of the Wehrmacht did because there were so many Jewish artisans. Jasper had gone there to collect his shoes from a cobbler who had been resoling them. (Black market leather, of course, as I pointed out to Jasper, but with a smile, hoping to settle him down.) The cobbler had been in a state. Said there was rumor that SS had asked city authorities, Mayor Kuzich, myself, to assist in the roundup and execution of Jewish population of Staroviche, and that the city authorities had agreed. Jewish deputation had been to see Kuzich that morning (Kuzich had told me of this meeting). Though Kuzich had reassured them and told them he would emphasize to the Germans the good work the Jewish Council had done in levying taxes among Jewish population, a lot of concern among the Jews. Some of the Gentile townspeople Jasper spoke to before coming to see me had also heard the rumors. A greengrocer told Jasper, “Everyone ought to wait till the Russians are finished off, because those Jews have powerful political friends!”
    Jasper looked at me steadily across the desk. “Herr Kabbelski,” he said, “tell me if it’s true.”
    Told him calmly that it was. Observers here from all over Ostland. It would be a model action. Could see him swallowing, trying to deal with his outrage, the same outrage which he had the grace to recognize I felt on many levels as well. Told him there would be exemptions for a small number still considered essential workers. Lest he think of the cobbler, I said, “Oberführer Ganz’s driver for example.”
    â€œBut, sir,” he said. “It isn’t possible in the technical sense to finish so many people in a day.”
    Told him that after some study and on the advice of his own people, especially Brigadeführer Ohlendorf of Special Action Group D, I now knew it to be possible—that it had already been done in Bialystok, Vilna, Pinsk, and Brest-Litovsk—places where the technique had been developed. It had not always worked as well, one could say as properly , as it would tomorrow. Some operations further north where Belorussian policemen, stoked with too much liquor, behaved like barbarians, molesting women, sodomizing children. Even not all Jasper’s people behaved well, though they’d been in training for this sort of operation for a long time.
    â€œThey are not my people,” he said, choking with grief.
    I felt both pity and anger for him. “Then who are your people, Sergeant Jasper? I know who mine are!” And I gave him a short history lesson, nothing he wouldn’t already have known as a European scholar, but something to soothe him. If Germans thought they had a Jewish problem, what about we Belorussians? The tsars cramming Jews into these western provinces, forbidding them to live or move outside them, forbidding them to live even in the countryside! The result? Minsk 41 percent

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