Those Who Forget: Book summary and reviews of Those Who Forget by Geraldine Schwarz

Those Who Forget

My Family's Story in Nazi Europe – A Memoir, A History, A Warning

by Geraldine Schwarz

Those Who Forget by Geraldine Schwarz X
Those Who Forget by Geraldine Schwarz
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Book Summary

Those Who Forget, published to international awards and acclaim, is journalist Géraldine Schwarz's riveting account of her German and French grandparents' lives during World War II, an in-depth history of Europe's post-war reckoning with fascism, and an urgent appeal to remember as a defense against today's rise of far-right nationalism.

During World War II, Géraldine Schwarz's German grandparents were neither heroes nor villains; they were merely Mitlaüfer—those who followed the current. Once the war ended, they wanted to bury the past under the wreckage of the Third Reich.

Decades later, while delving through filing cabinets in the basement of their apartment building in Mannheim, Schwarz discovers that in 1938, her paternal grandfather Karl took advantage of Nazi policies to buy a business from a Jewish family for a low price. She finds letters from the only survivor of this family (all the others perished in Auschwitz), demanding reparations. But Karl Schwarz refused to acknowledge his responsibility. Géraldine starts to question the past: How guilty were her grandparents? What makes us complicit? On her mother's side, she investigates the role of her French grandfather, a policeman in Vichy.

Weaving together the threads of three generations of her family story with Europe's process of post-war reckoning, Schwarz explores how millions were seduced by ideology, overcome by a fog of denial after the war, and, in Germany at least, eventually managed to transform collective guilt into democratic responsibility. She asks: How can nations learn from history? And she observes that countries that avoid confronting the past are especially vulnerable to extremism. Searing and unforgettable, Those Who Forget is a riveting memoir, an illuminating history, and an urgent call for remembering.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[T]his book, a deserving winner of the European Book Prize, shows clearly how a willful amnesia can poison nations that have sworn never to forget the Holocaust. The granddaughter of a Nazi Party member makes a powerful, convincing moral case for resisting toxic nationalism." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In her debut, journalist and documentary filmmaker Schwarz offers a powerful and unflinching look at Germany during World War II and Europe's postwar reckoning with far-right nationalism, and calls for readers not to forget the painful lessons learned...In searing yet engaging prose, Schwarz makes her case for the need for memory work in this highly recommended read." - Library Journal (starred review)

"A timely must-read, this brutally honest memoir is also a smart historical analysis and a relevant warning for the future." - Booklist (starred review)

"[An] astute debut...This timely memoir also serves as a perceptive look at the current rise of far-right nationalism throughout Europe and the U.S." - Publishers Weekly

"Those Who Forget goes far beyond the difficult endeavor of conveying the complexity of the German war experience: It is a deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking reflection on the far-reaching effect history has on us as individuals, as families, and as societies. Making a case for taking individual – not just collective – responsibility, she helps us understand the importance of openly facing our past, and of actively learning from it, at a time when our democracy, once again, is under threat. Those Who Forget is a powerful monument to our time, and an urgent wake-up call." - Nora Krug, author of Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home

"It took only two generations for her family's unexceptional wartime past to recede from view. But as the author painstakingly peeled away decades of denial, it was precisely the family's ordinariness that would prove so chilling. Geraldine Schwarz's book is a brave and important contribution to our understanding of memory." - Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate

"An utterly original memoir for our times, elegant, courageous and deeply affecting." - Philippe Sands, author of East West Street

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More Information

Géraldine Schwarz is a German-French journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker based in Berlin. Those Who Forget is her first book. It won the European Book Prize, Germany's Winfried Peace Prize, and Italy's NordSud International Prize for Literature and Science and is currently being translated into eight languages.

Laura Marris is a poet and translator whose translations include Louis Guilloux's novel Blood Dark, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. She is currently working on the new translation for Albert Camus's The Plague.

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