After-life: Göran Rosenberg with his parents in Sweden
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A history of violence: A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz by Göran Rosenberg

The story of Rosenberg’s father David, and his struggle to construct a new life after surviving the Holocaust was first published in Sweden in 2012; since then it has sold over 200,000 copies and been translated into nine languages. But Rosenberg wonders if he has the ability to tell the story at all, given that he is writing it “much later” than the events described.

A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz 
Göran Rosenberg; translated by Sarah Death
Granta Books, 336pp, £16.99

At the beginning of his memoir A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz, the Swedish journalist Göran Rosenberg raises the question of veracity. The story of Rosenberg’s father, David, and his struggle to construct a new life after surviving the Holocaust was first published in Sweden in 2012; since then it has sold over 200,000 copies and been translated into nine languages. But Rosenberg wonders if he has the ability to tell the story at all, given that he is writing it “much later” than the events described. In the growing fashion of narrative non-fiction writers, the author promises to avoid speculation. Instead, he betrays his lack of certainty by deploying expressions such as “perhaps”, “probably”, “I don’t know exactly” and “in my imagination”.

David lives in Lodz; he is 16 when, following Germany’s occupation of Poland in 1939, he is forced, along with his family and over a hundred thousand other Jews, into the ghetto. He avoids deportation until August 1944, when he is transported to Auschwitz, before being shunted from one camp to the next: Belsen, Saschsenhausen, Buchenwald and Wöbbelin. Throughout this time, he suffers terrible hardship, starvation and beatings. Of his family, only he and his brother survive. After the war, David seeks refuge in Sweden, and attempts to build a new life in a small industrial town. Gradually, the trauma of the camps catches up with him, upsetting his equanimity and throwing his family into chaos.

Rosenberg’s assertion of authorial integrity at the beginning of the book is undermined throughout. He does speculate; and then goes further, reproducing a novelist’s description of life in a cattle cart, thus stepping into the world of fiction. The truth of the story is put into further question by divergent views about how to label it. In 2012 A Brief Stop won Sweden’s prestigious August Prize – for fiction. Granta (in the UK) and the Other Press (in the US) both describe it as non-fiction “memoir”.

As the book continues, Rosenberg focuses on his father’s plan to overcome the past, described as the “Project”. At issue is whether to remain in the small town, referred to as the “Place”, or to leave, so that he can break through the “horizon”. These words – project, place, horizon – are repeated over and over again. It is his father’s belief, although he continues to be haunted by “shadows”, that the Child – as the author awkwardly calls himself – should have a chance to create a new life.

David applies to the German government for compensation. While the lawyers argue about the extent of his inability to work (is it 0 per cent, 25 per cent or 60 per cent?) his mental state further unravels. It is hard not to be shocked by his retraumatising. I gasped out loud when a psychiatrist concluded that, “without doubt, the patient is exaggerating his difficulties”. In a final letter to his family before committing suicide, David writes: “I suffer the agonies of hell and I can’t go on. I can’t live with normal people.”

Rosenberg’s writing is best when sparse – as in: “precise figures and arbitrary abbreviations are the crowbars of Nazi euphemism” – or when his observation is acute: “There are those who have to forget because they don’t want to remember (and therefore remember all too well), and there are those who forget because they have nothing particular to remember.” Some of the strongest passages in the book are those written by other people: letters from David in which he movingly implores his fiancée to join him in Sweden (she had survived the camps and returned to Lodz); or the astonishing speech by Chaim Rumkowski, a Jewish leader in the ghetto, who argues that all children under the age of ten must be sacrificed in order to save everyone else.

The writing is less persuasive when Ros­enberg makes generalisations; for instance, “You who have survived Auschwitz are all damaged, whether it shows or not . . .” Equally problematic are the points at which the author tells the reader how to react emotionally, as when, talking about memorials, he writes: “You have to hand it to the Germans, even in commemorating repulsive acts, they’re conscientious.”

Sarah Death’s English translation maintains a consistency of tone and rhythm, successfully conveying Rosenberg’s – dare I say it – meta commentary without arrogance or conceit. There are only a few lines that do not quite ring true (take: “Luck, chance and freak are the stones with which every road from Auschwitz is paved”).

While details of the horrors of the camps will be known to many, and they can never be recounted enough, what may be new, at least to an English-speaking readership, is the plight of Swedish Jews. The anti-Semitism of the pre-war years, the insipid instances of abuse afterwards and the sad lives of those who sought refuge in Sweden in the 1940s are all of great interest. For these reasons alone it is worth picking up this book. 

Thomas Harding is the author of “Hanns and Rudolf: the German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz” (Windmill, £7.99)

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the insurgents

Photo: NRK
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Skam, interrupted: why is the phenomenally popular teen drama ending before its peak?

The show has been building towards high school graduation – but now it’s ending before its lead characters finish school.

“Have you heard they started their bus already?”
“One month into high school – and they started their bus.”

This Skype conversation between Eva and Isak comes early in the first episode of Skam. The phenomenally internationally successful series follows teenagers at a high school in Oslo. The “bus” they're discussing is a key plot point and concern of the students' lives. That’s because, in Norway, graduating high school students participate in “russefeiring” – it’s a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of completing high school, and a farewell to friends departing for university or jobs around the country.

Students gather into groups, give their gang a name, wear matching coloured overalls, rent a big car or a van, and spend late April to mid May (17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day) continuously partying. They call it the “three week binge”. It’s a big fucking deal. 

Skam, with its focus on teens in high school, has therefore spent a lot of time thinking about “russ”. The show, which is set at the exact same time it airs, has followed its four main characters Eva, Noora, Isak and Sana (who each have a season of the show written from their perspective, a la Skins), as well as all their friends, from their first few weeks at school in September 2015. In other words, preparations take years, and we’ve heard a lot about the plans for their russ bus.

In season one, Eva has fallen out with her best friend, and is hurt when she hears she is moving on and has formed a new bus, with new friends, called Pepsi Max.

We meet one of the show’s most prominent characters, Vilde, when we see her trying to get a bus of girls together. The show’s five main girl characters, Eva, Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sana, become friends because of her efforts: they bond during their “bus meetings” and fundraising attempts. They flirt with a group of boys on a bus calling themselves “The Penetrators”.

The latest season follows Sana’s struggles to ensure the bus doesn’t fall apart, and an attempt to join buses with rivals Pepsi Max. The joyful climax of season four comes when they finally buy their own bus and stop social-climbing, naming themselves “Los Losers”. Bus drama is the glue that keeps the show together.

But now, in June 2017, a whole year before the characters graduate, Skam is ending. The architect of the girls’ bus, Vilde, has never had her own season, unlike most of her friends. Many assumed that Vilde would have had her own season during her final year at school. Fans insist the show’s creator Julie Andem planned nine seasons in total, yet Skam is ending after just four.

The news that Skam would stop after season four came during the announcement that Sana, a Muslim member of the “girl squad”, would be the next main character. The show’s intense fandom were delighted by the character choice, but devastated at the news that there would only be one more season. “I can’t accept that this is the last season,” one wrote on Reddit.

“I'm so shocked and sad. It’s honestly just...weird. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we’re not getting a Vilde season. Most importantly, it’s not fair that we’ll never get to see them on their russ, see them graduating, nothing. It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn’t serve the storyline at all.”

No one has given a concrete reason about why the show ended prematurely. Ina, who plays Chris, said in an interview that “we all need a break”.

Some fans went into denial, starting petitions to encourage Andem to continue with the show, while rumours abound suggesting it will return. 

Many speculated that the show simply became too popular to continue. “I think that the show would have had six seasons and a Vilde season if the show didn’t become popular outside of Scandinavia,” one wrote. “I think the pressure and the large amount of cringy fans (not saying that some Scandinavian fans aren’t cringy) has made making the show less enjoyable for the actors and creators.”

Andem has stayed mostly quiet on her reasons for ending the show, except for a statement made via her Instagram. She recalls how very early on, during a season one shoot, someone first asked her how long the show would last:

“We were standing in the schoolyard at Nissen High School, a small, low-budget production crew, one photographer, the sound engineer and me. ‘Who knows, but I think we should aim for world domination,’ I said. We all laughed, ‘cause I was obviously joking. None of us understood then how big Skam would turn out to be. This experience has been completely unreal, and a joy to be a part of.”

Skam has been a 24/7 job,” she continues. “We recently decided that we won’t be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I’m confident this is the right decision.”

Many fans feel that season four has struggled under the burden of ending the show – and divisions and cracks have appeared in the fandom as a result.

Some feel that Sana’s season has been overshadowed by other characters and plotlines, something that is particularly frustrating for those who were keen to see greater Muslim representation in the show. Of a moment in season four involving Noora, the main character from season two, one fan account wrote, “I LOVE season tw- I mean four. That’s Noora’s season right? No wait, is it Willhell’s season??? What’s a Sana.”

Others feel that the subject of Islam hasn’t been tackled well in this season. Some viewers felt one scene, which sees Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend, Isak, discuss Islamophobia, was whitesplainy. 

One popular translation account, that provides a version of the show with English subtitles, wrote of the scene: “A lot of you guys have been disappointed by the latest clip and you’re not the only ones. We do want to finish this project for the fans but we are disappointed with how this season has gone.” They announced they would be translating less as a result.

The final week of the show has been light on Sana. Instead, each character who never received a full season has had a few minutes devoted to their perspective. These are the other girls from the girl squad, Vilde and Chris, and the boyfriends of each main character: Eva’s ex Jonas, Isak’s boyfriend Even, Eva’s current fling “Penetrator Chris” and Noora’s on-off boyfriend William.

It’s understandable to want to cover key perspectives in the show’s final week, but it can feel teasing – we get a short glimpse into characters' home lives, like Vilde struggling to care for her depressed mother, but the scene ends before we can really get into it. And, of course, it takes precious time away from Sana in the show’s final minutes.

Some were frustrated by the characters focused on. “Penetrator Chris” is a particularly minor character – one fan account wrote of his scene: “This is absolutely irrelevant. 1) It sidelines Sana 2) It asks more questions 3) It doesn’t answer shit. This isn’t even Sana’s season anymore and that’s absolutely disgusting. She didn’t even get closure or ten episodes or anything.

“Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better. Yet here we are watching a Penetrator Chris clip. How ironic that it’s not even called just “Christopher” because that’s all he is. “Penetrator Chris”.

It’s been a dramatic close for a usually warm and tight-knit fan community. Of course, many fans are delighted with the final season: their only sadness is there won’t be more. One of the largest fan accounts tried to keep things positive. “I know people have mixed feelings about Skam and who deserves what in terms of screentime this season (etc),” they wrote, “which I totally understand.

"However, everything has already been filmed, so there is nothing we can do about it. I think this last week of Skam will be much more enjoyable for everyone if we focus on the positives in the clips ahead. Skam isn’t perfect. People are allowed to disagree. But let’s go into this week being grateful for everything Skam has given us.”

Some fans choose to look to what the future holds for the show – an American remake. It will keep the same characters and plotlines as the original, and Andem may be involved.

Few think it will be a patch on the current show, but some are excited to have the chance to watch it teasingly as a group regardless. It seems unlikely that the US remake will compare in terms of quality – not least because the original was so heavily researched and tied to Norwegian culture. But for fans struggling to let go of Skam, it can’t come soon enough.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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