URSULA DUBA’S “GERMANY”
Ursula Duba was born in Cologne, Germany in 1938. Nonetheless, she did not learn of the Holocaust until after she turned 19. Several years thereafter, she moved to a Brooklyn neighborhood, then home to many Holocaust survivors. Keenly intelligent and profoundly empathetic, Ursula decided to turn her moral outrage over the Nazi era and its aftermath within German society into a career as a scholar, writer, educator, and poet.
Her most recently published book is Germany: The Legacy of Bystanders, Cowards, Informers, Desktop Murderers, and Executioners.
The volume is divided into two parts.
The first is adopted from a lecture Ursula delivered at Yale University as part of that institution’s Genocide Studies Program. It includes trenchant, complex, and emotionally challenging observations about how non-Jewish Germans dealt with Nazi history in the immediate post-war era through to the turn of the century. The second part of the book includes a sampling of Ursula’s singular poetry of conscience.
One fascinating aspect of Ursula Duba’s Germany is the author’s willingness to illustrate ignoble aspects of German society with anecdotes from her own family’s behavior and ways of thinking. The book thus is a hybrid between social psychology and memoir.
Brief though this volume may be, Ursula’s capacity for fully exposing social hypocrisy by setting one trenchant observation atop another, and then another again could well be taken as a model of its kind. More specifically, though, the writer explicates particular facets of post-war German society so keenly and concisely that I am hard-pressed to think of any single essay or book that does the job better. And, although Ursula’s work is palpably fueled by outrage, emotion never gets the better of reason in her treatment of any individual topic.
In giving readings from her poetry books to students at international schools in Europe, Ursula noticed that most students processed Holocaust-related matters appropriately, but German students reacted to them with anger. One German student told her: “If it weren’t for people like you spreading all this sh**, we wouldn’t be mistreated by the rest of the world.”
That and similar reactions led Ursula to take a deep look at just why German students were reacting that way. In this book, she reaches some intriguing conclusions, and suggests remedies that might be useful for any country looking to overcome crimes against humanity committed in its past.
Ursula’s poetry, meanwhile, is austere, as well as being relentlessly, compellingly moral. To cite here just one example, her poem Words examines how people can accept, but on the other hand, shirk responsibility for wicked deeds through seemingly simple, yet profoundly important choices of words.
In sum, this slim volume imparts a wealth of moral wisdom; time reading it is time very well spent. Additionally, Ursula’s close, unflinching view of post-war German society will be of great value to all who are interested in modern European history.
To see Ursula Duba’s Germany: The Legacy of Bystanders, Cowards, Informers, Desktop Murderers, and Executioners on Amazon, go here.
The Penguin Random House page for Ursula Duba is here.
Ursula Duba wrote a fascinating book review of Ernestine Schlant’s The Language of Silence – West German Literature and the Holocaust. You may read that review here.
To hear Ursula Duba interviewed by Lorna Benson for NPR, go here.
To see Ursula Duba interviewed for “The Obligations of Memory” series, go here.
Find Ursula Duba on LinkedIn here,
I read this book and agree with you. It is excellent, and I highly recommend it. I loved her previous books too.