Reviews of Those Who Forget by Géraldine Schwarz

Those Who Forget

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

by Géraldine Schwarz

Those Who Forget by Géraldine Schwarz X
Those Who Forget by Géraldine Schwarz
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2022, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

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.

Chapter I
To Be or Not to Be a Nazi

I wasn't particularly destined to take an interest in Nazis. My father's parents were neither on the victims' nor the executioners' side. They didn't distinguish themselves with acts of bravery, but neither did they commit the sin of excess zeal. They were simply Mitläufer, people who "followed the current." Simply, in the sense that their attitude was shared by the majority of the German people, an accumulation of little blindnesses and small acts of cowardice that, when combined, created the necessary conditions for the worst state-orchestrated crimes known to humanity. For many years after the defeat, my grandparents, like most Germans, lacked the hindsight to realize that though the impact of each Mitläufer was tiny on an individual level, it had a cumulative effect, since without their participation, Hitler would not have been able to commit crimes of such magnitude. The Führer himself sensed this and regularly took the measure of...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Schwarz defines her German grandparents as Mitläufer, ordinary people who, like the majority of the German population, "followed the current" (page 1) during World War II. She argues that without the cooperation of the Mitläufer, the Nazis could never have carried out the atrocities of the Holocaust. What does she mean by that?
  2. How did Mannheim change during the 1930s and early 1940s, and how did this impact the city's Jewish community day by day? How did it impact Schwarz's grandparents?
  3. How did opportunism motivate many Germans to support anti-Semitic measures? How did its citizens become accomplices in a criminal regime? What role did indifference, fear, and blindness, as well as the manipulative strategies of the Third Reich...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although the transition from history to analysis of current events is relatively abrupt, the placement of brief commentary on recent issues later in the book still works well considering that Schwarz's account is primarily chronological. Also, in deferring this commentary, she avoids turning off readers who disagree with her assessment or who pick up the book because of a specific curiosity about the historical rise of Nazism. In any case, the narrative is fascinating from start to finish, combining a top-notch family memoir with history and social criticism. Like many, I've pondered the Holocaust over the years, wondering how such a thing could happen, how average, well-meaning people could permit a climate in which others are systematically persecuted or killed. Those Who Forget is enlightening in that regard, and provides a lot of food for thought. Schwarz's warning, too, is an important one that should be heeded...continued

Full Review (884 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
[I]mmensely powerful...an urgent siren, flagging the dangers of creeping authoritarianism and the blowback that can occur when historic injustices are not aired and addressed...timely and necessary.

New York Journal of Books
Importantly, Géraldine places her family’s story in the broader context of postwar German and French blame-shifting. As has been reported extensively, both countries buried their responsibility for years, alternately blaming Germany (France) or a few leaders (Germany) and ignoring their own citizens’ complicity and even enthusiastic support for the Holocaust...It took Europe arguably two generations to fully face up to its shameful Holocaust past. Books like this one are needed to make sure that future generations don’t have any such guilt to deny.

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

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[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.

Library Journal (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.

Publishers Weekly
[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.

Author Blurb Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate
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.

Author Blurb Nora Krug, author of Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home
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.

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

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Stolpersteine

Stolpersteine in Kolín, Czech Republic In Those Who Forget, author Géraldine Schwarz relates a visit her father paid to his parents' former home in Mannheim, Germany, looking for a specific "Stolperstein" installed outside the apartment.

The word "Stolperstein" (plural "Stolpersteine") means "stumbling stone" or "stumbling block" in German. These small memorials to victims of the Nazi regime are concrete stones topped with brass plaques, each about 10 cm square, embedded outside the person's last-known residence. Each bears the words "here lived" followed by the individual's name, year of birth and their fate under Nazism (deportation, internment, etc.).

The Stolperstein project began to form in 1991, when artist Gunter Demnig created a paint line on the...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Those Who Forget, try these:

  • Motherland jacket

    Motherland

    by Maria Hummel

    Published 2015

    About this book

    More by this author

    The novel bears witness to the shame and courage of Third Reich families during the devastating final days of the war, as each family member's fateful choice lead the reader deeper into questions of complicity and innocence, to the novel's heartbreaking and unforgettable conclusion.

  • Every Man Dies Alone jacket

    Every Man Dies Alone

    by Hans Fallada

    Published 2010

    About this book

    This never-before-translated masterpiece—by a heroic best-selling writer who saw his life crumble under the Nazis— is based on a true story. It presents a richly detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis and tells the sweeping saga of one working-class couple who decides to take a stand when their only son is killed at the front...

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Fire Season
    Fire Season
    by Leyna Krow
    Fire Season is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that touches upon multiple genres and themes. It ...
  • Book Jacket: The Story of Russia
    The Story of Russia
    by Orlando Figes
    In The Story of Russia, British historian and writer Orlando Figes shares panoramic and ...
  • Book Jacket: Moth
    Moth
    by Melody Razak
    On August 15, 1947, India gained independence from the United Kingdom, and on that same day the ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Lonely People
    All the Lonely People
    by Mike Gayle
    Mike Gayle's charming novel All the Lonely People introduces us to Hubert Bird, an 82-year-old ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.