Barefoot Bookclub Review: The Angel of Zin

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“There were corpses in that train,” Paul said. “A woman begged for water—she even offered her wedding-ring. I wanted to give her the water, but I had no chance.” Reitlinger frowned, his hand resting on the throbbing gear-shift. “Captain, that SS sergeant was Gestapo. They’re in charge of all transport.” “So he told me,” Paul said. “He has the right to arrest you. If you interfered, you would have been risking your life—and for what? They would still have loaded the train.” From The Angel of Zin by Clifford Irving

Paul Bach, widower, father of two children, homicide investigator, Nazi SS Captain, wounded warrior, man with a conscience accepts the fatalist advice of his driver settles into the car and drives on to Zin. There in the dead of winter, he discovers the depth of his own blindness.

Initially, it is the smell, an aroma he cannot identify, with his gut wrenching reaction the source is proudly revealed by his guide, efficient, sanitary elimination and disposal. His shock when barely able to keep warm in heavy coat, boots and fur lined gloves,he asks, ‘you do not heat the barracks during the day?’ is met with a casual ‘we don’t heat them at all’

He moves on with his investigation of a rash of suicides and murders each with a note pinned to the body. Get this over and get back to Berlin. The investigation drags on and then the Camp is to be shut down, supplies, gold, hair, officers and enlisted men are to be transported to the East–the camp and all occupants destroyed. Paul writes a letter to his children.

“I am so deeply ashamed of myself. I was a policeman. My task was to combat disorder and evil. Now I swim in the muck of orderly evil. It was my job to protect the innocent by bringing murderers to justice. Here, the murderers are my own people.”

With their deaths an official order the Jews in the camp rise up against their oppressors of whom, Paul Bach is one. Paul Bach defies orders and aids the attempted escape, but few survive and Paul Bach is not one of the survivors. His letter to his children found by a soldier entering the camp after the uprising ends up in the fire.

The Jewish leader of the camp, ‘Mordecai Lieberman had once said, No earthly power has ever been able to destroy us. But under the heavy sky the earth ran red.’

He was like another Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther, but Mordecai Lieberman had no influential ally to which to say,

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?””
‭‭Esther‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Unless that person was Paul Bach. Point blank, he takes a chance and asks ‘what would you do Captain?’ Paul Bach responds by saying, ‘revolt.’

This was a haunting read, followed by a week of disturbing news from around the world and here in the United States.

Would I risk my reputation, my career–pretty safe now since I am retired–my financial security, my family, my life to give water to a thirsty woman, to save a family with whom I do not share culture or religion from an oppressor, to stand up for unborn, the mentally ill, the marginalized and bullied,

IF they would still load the train?

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