Book blog

1000 before 30 #52: Mendelssohn is on the Roof – Jiri Weil

A satirical yet serious look at the nazi occupation and burocracy that underpinned their power.

The story starts with a low-level nazi military commander ordering employees of the opera house in Prague to take down the statue of Jewish composer Mendelssohn. But he can’t figure out which one he is. So he orders workers to take down the statue with the largest nose – Wagner.

With this backdrop, characters from the Jewish community collaborate or fight against the occupiers. The director of the Jewish museum works meticulously to preserve the heritage of the Jewish people so that the occupiers that are obliterating them can enjoy them in an exhibition. A guard from the Jewish quarter finds a job in a nazi warehouse, where they collect valuables left behind or taken from the Jews sent to concentration camps. A man working in the resistance leaves his nieces in hiding as he dies horribly in the hospital. A military commander exposes his plans to exterminate the entire Jewish population by transferring them from camp to camp and finally to the furnaces.

Sometimes reality is absurd. This is the case here, where claims of stealing by Jews follows plundering by nazis of their belongings, or where hatred towards a statue is transposed against the building of the Jewish museum.

This was an angry narrative, quietly exposing the injustices and atrocities committed before the allies had any knowledge of concentration camps. The transfer of the Jewish people, which in the story was conducted by Jewish burocrats that were collaborating with the nazi authorities, was particularly shocking. The fact that they had no idea that they were doing anything but displacing people and were motivated by nothing but the protection of their own families made things even worse. The rumours about gas chambers, death and disappearances were  put aside in favour of survival for now.

The bravery of those that chose to fight, the pure evil motivated by ideology and the nonsensical nature of the nazi commands were recurring elements in the texts. As were the statues, the silent overseers of the destruction of the human race.

It’s clever and unapologetic. The ending is shocking. The imagery is vivid and the storylines are intelligent and nuanced. Without being angry in itself, it left me with nothing buts tremendous feeling of anger.



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