"The authors have brought to light a fascinating subject, which, to my knowledge, has not been treated elsewhere, namely the story of a racially determined but not identifying Jew who became caught up in the Nazi death machine."—Michael A. Meyer, author of Jewish Identity in the Modern World
"A compelling read, and Milbouer’s translation does an excellent job of creating an English-language text that will capture the attention of a wide group of readers."—Jonathan Hess, author of Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity
"Willy Wiemokli’s journey through German history in the twentieth century is at the core of this compact
and fascinating volume. His story is not one of heroism, but rather one of precarious existence, ethical
compromise, and survival."—Alan E. Steinweis, University of Vermont
This is the story of a crushingly ordinary man who had the misfortune to live in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. The son of a baptized Jewish father and a Protestant mother, Willy Wiemokli (1908–1983) was declared a half-Jew by the laws of the Third Reich, and because of this, he and his father were briefly interned in Buchenwald. Although his father was eventually executed in Auschwitz in 1943, Willy went on to become an accountant for J. A. Topf & Söhne, the manufacturer of the ovens used in the death of his father as well as thousands of others in concentration camps. Persecuted by the Nazis, he also participated, minimally, in the Nazi-led genocide. This paradox and Willy’s liminal status gives his fascinating biography historical significance, adding a new dimension to our understanding of what the Nazi race policies meant to ordinary Germans. In this brief telling of an otherwise average man’s life, Schüle and Sowade reveal the pervasive and long-term effect of the race laws. Based solely on archival records, Willy’s story gives insight into the muddled and impossible choices of vulnerable individuals living under the Third Reich and the blurred boundaries between victim, bystander, and accomplice.
Annegret Schüle is the curator of the memorial Topf & Sons—Builders of the Auschwitz Ovens Place of Remembrance.
Tobias Sowade is a research assistant and lecturer of German history.
Penny Milbouer has translated several publications, including Michael Wieck’s A Childhood under Hitler an Stalin: Memoirs of a “Certified Jew.”
Series: Modern Jewish History
5.5 x 8, 160 pages, 13 black and white illustrations