First Depiction of the Shoah: “The Burnt Offering"

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Elisabeth and Albrecht Goes shared an abhorrence of the prevalent anti-Semitism and the Nazis’ violent excesses against the Jews. At the same time as his wife was sheltering the married Krakauer couple and then two other Jewish women disguised as “bombed-out refugees from Berlin” for a while, Albrecht Goes was serving as a military hospital and prison chaplain in Hungary and witnessing the deportation of the Jews living there, who had been spared until March of 1944.

In 1945, the year of his return from the war, Goes came to terms with his experiences in his story “Encounter in Hungary”. It is the first depiction of the Shoah by a non-Jewish German author, the earliest literary contribution to renewing the relationship between Jews and Christians. Albrecht Goes wrote the story “The Burnt Offering” in 1953 when he was still living in Gebersheim.

Translated into over ten languages and having become required reading in schools, the story became an important and early forerunner of Shoah remembrance in Germany:

It tells of the butcher’s wife Grete Walker, whose business is declared a “Jewish butcher’s shop” in which Jews stand in line for their meager ration of meat in the evening on a certain day of the week. It tells of her lodger and “half-Jew” Sabine Berendson, who pretends to be “Aryan” and her father who was just able to emigrate to England. And it tells of Doctor S., assistant at the municipal library who is in love with her. Little by little, everyone suspects, witnesses and comprehends the escalating ostracism of the Jews up through their persecution and extermination in his or her own way.

Summoning up past events, but to what end?, asks the author Albrecht Goes in the opening. And he provides the answer in what follows: Not to perpetuate hatred. The only thing to do is to set an example in obedience to the example of the eternal, which states: ‘This far and no farther.’ An example of commemoration, written – where and for whom? Alas, whoever remembers those whose earthly substance has passed away, dust and ash in earth and wind, writes in the air. People have forgotten. And they have to forget of course, for how could anyone who cannot forget live? But at times there has to be somebody who remembers. For this is more than ash in the wind. This is a flame. The world would freeze to death if it were not for this flame.

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  • © Book cover, S. Fischer-Verlag, Frankfurt

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