Thursday 10 September 2009

Red tape and passivity

Serendipity: a book about to be thrown out from the TS library is a novel about the Evian Conference in 1938 (convened by US President Roosevelt to help desperate German Jews find refuge).

Entitled The Mission (1966, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd) by Hans Habe, it is excellently translated from German by Michael Bullock. The main protagonist is an elderly and respected Jewish nephrologist sent by the Gestapo - unlikely but true - to plead on behalf of his people. The story is full of believable complexity. Jewish organisations were there en masse to plead, and nothing was accomplished.

Habe, who attended the Conference as a League of Nations correspondent for the Prager Tagblatt, says in the final Commentary that he knew the man on whom the novel is based:

"For more than twenty-five years, I have been carrying my knowledge of the Conference at Evian-les-Bains and the "Benda Mission" about with me like a burden and a duty...

Habe delineates the real from the invented. The final section contains the names of all the participants, a form of bearing witness to evil committed through red tape,passivity and a lack of imagination.

A NZ delegate was there: NZ was perceived as a country which might take in refugees.
The NZ public service was riddled with anti-Semitism, so nothing came of it. Nothing in the scale of what was needed.

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