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: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.