Tuesday, November 6, 2007

This Week at the Library (6/11)

It's been a couple of weeks since the last time I updated, and most of my reading has been focused around school. I'm taking three courses that require readings to prepare for each lecture, and to supplement that (and prepare myself more for tests) I read from other books. For German History, for instance, I'm reading through The Complete Idiot's Guide to Nazi Germany, which is immensely helpful. For Geography, we had to skip a lecture on Israel, so I've been reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Middle East Conflict. (I own a lot of the The Complete Idiot's Guide and ...for Dummies books: they're wonderful in providing a general overview of a given subject.)

Last week, I picked up Great Tales from English History 2 because it had a chapter on Joan of Arc, who is the subject of one of my term papers. The chapter on her was actually quite short, but I found the other stories in the book -- short chapters about Azincourt, Oliver Cromwell, the feud between Elizabeth and Mary, the many wives of Henry VIII -- to be immensely interesting and entertaining. I enjoyed it very much, and it became my breakfast reading for the week.

In more conventional reading, however, I have also read two books for my German History class. In addition to the "textbook" -- a compilation of letters, memos, and such from various German political leaders, our class also had to buy Mephisto by Klauss Mann and Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany by Marion Kaplan.

We read and discussed Mephisto about a week and a half ago. The book concerns the career of a German actor named Hendrik Hofgen. All of the characters in the story with the exception of bigger names (Hitler and Goering) are based on actual people in real life, which is a little interesting.

Hendrik starts out as an actor in Hamburg -- a very talented and a very career-driven one. He's nominally involved with the far left, politically. His friends include Communists and Socialists. The book is set in the late 1920s and the early 1930s, a turbulent time for Germany. Germany had recovered from the hyperinflatation of the early 1920s and had begun to prosper -- only to have all that recovery taken away by the Great Depression.

Hendrik's determination to become a famous actor makes him immensely successful in Hamburg. He realizes, though, that to get to where he needs to be, he needs to make a name for himself in Berlin. He eventually moves to Berlin and uses friendships to advance his name. While filming in Spain, the Nazis come to power in 1933 -- disaster for a socialist like Hendrik, since the Nazis despised the left.

Rather than giving into despair over the loss of his life in Weimar Germany -- the deportation of his friends, the persecution for his political ideas -- Hendrik sells himself out. He relies on his friendship to the Minister of Propaganda's wife to insert himself into the new ruling circles. Hendrik is completely at home with the Nazi elite, given how much of their platform they began to ignore once they were actually in power. The Nazi ranks were full of political opportunists like Hendrik. Hendrik's performance as Mephistoles in the play Faust is what really makes Hendrik's name known. Mephistoles is one of the "Devil's" familars. Mephistoles convinces Faust to sell his soul for gain, but that's all I know.

Eventually, Hendrik has to face his inner demons -- guilt at advancing while his friends live as exiles and deteriorate in concentration camps. The book ends as he realized that like Faust, he has sold his soul to the "devil". For a "mandatory" read, I found the book to be quite enjoyable.

The third book, one which I finished over this past weekend, is Between Dignity and Despair. In high school I developed a morbid interest in the Holocaust. The very idea of shipping people off in cattle cars and exterminating them in gas chambers was (and is) so surreal that I was driven to read about it, in hopes of making sense of it.

Learning the German language and studying German history has made me somewhat sympathetic toward Germany, but this book angered me and made me sick. The author portrays the persecution against the Jews as increasing in stages. At first, Nazi rule is merely inconvienent: there are stores that won't sell to Jews, and some Jewish men have to find other places to work. As the years drag on, Germany becomes more and more Nazified. The German people are exposed to more and more propaganda against the Jews and become absolutely hateful toward them.

I learned some things that I didn't know -- for instance, that there were tremendous barriers against Jewish people emigrating from Germany. You would think that the Nazis would make it as easy as possible to get their "undesirables" out of Germany, but that wasn't the case. Jewish bank accounts were frozen and massive taxes levied against Jews trying to leave Germany for places like Japan . Eventually, Jewish emigration was completely banned.

It seems that the Nazis didn't want to get the Jews out of Germany: they wanted to exterminate them.

Pick of the Week: Great Tales from English History 2

My reading for the next week will be dominated by readings for my research papers. I'm going to be writing about two pet subjects -- Joan of Arc and the Luftwaffe -- for my Medieval European and German history classes, respectively. I went to the libraries (today -- 8/11) and checked out a number of books regarding my two papers. One was completely unrelated -- Great Tales from English History. I'm quite looking forward to it.

Some of the books I'll be perusing in the weeks to come:
- World War II in the Sky
- The Air War 1939-1945
- The Influence of Air Power upon History
- Hitler's Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War
- To Command the Sky
- The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe
- The Trial of Joan of Arc
- Joan of Arc: Her Story
- Joan of Arc: Heretic, Mystic, Shaman


I think I have one more book about Joan, but I can't remember the title at the moment. For reasons that escape me, I have had a strong interest in the story of Jeanne d'Arc since middle school. (Well, one of the reasons doesn't escape me.) I suppose it's because I'm a Francophile, but Joan fascinates me even though I'm a cynic about religion and she was purportedly being talked to by dead Catholics.

I have harbored a fondness for propeller-driven airplanes since high school. I don't know where or when (the clothes you're wearing are the clothes you wore, the smile you are smiling, you were smiling then...), but I developed a strong interest in the second world war and especially the air war. In ninth or tenth grade, I picked up a book called The Airman's War by Albert Marrin, and I loved it. Marrin is a fanstatic writer in my opinion. In tenth grade English, we were told to write a paper on anything that interested us.

I wrote twenty-two pages on the air war. It was an awful paper, really -- a glut of information that wasn't really focused -- and I only receved a C. I was going to do my German History paper on Nazi building projects during WW2, but I was unable to find a lot of information on that other than Albert Speer's memoirs. I decided to go with a pet subject. I hope to do the subject justice with this paper.

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