Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wonderful, suspenseful, well-written, touching, book..."

This review is from: GHOST RUNNERS 
Berlin 1936

Robert Rubinstein's "Ghost Runners" is a fictionalized account of the plight of the only two Jews on the American Olympic team sent to Berlin in 1936. Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman (called Joshua Sellers and Bobby Gilman in the book) were removed from the relay team at the last minute, probably because of the antisemitic tendencies of Avery Brundage and the team coach. Their adventures and disappointments form the frame of the story, which is set against a backdrop of American and German antisemitism and its political effects on sport. The great strength of the book is its wonderful treatment of the contemporary atmosphere in Brooklyn & Berlin, which gives a very authentic feel for the time. The characters are very vividly drawn as well, so much so that they almost beg for some kind of movie treatment. Rubinstein is obviously aware of the historical backdrop to the 1936 games, including the elaborate staged pageantry, the (temporary) fakery on the part of the Hitler regime with regard to the German Jews, and the American pretense that these games were taking place in a "normal" setting, at a time when Dachau and other incarceration camps were already in place. Rubinstein is very much concerned with the American corporate involvement in the process of German rearmament and the sympathy of Brundage and other Americans for Hitler's new "World Order". While there can be no doubt that such sympathies existed, both in the U.S. and other democracies, Rubinstein's chilling portrayal of a "Himmler Circle" involving top American industrialists, is a bit overdrawn. To be sure, there
were prominent American antisemites (Ford, Coughlin, Lindberg) who viewed the Nazi regime favorably during the 1930's and others who saw the opportunity for profits in the context of a growing German economy that was being transformed. There is little evidence, however, for the kind of Nazi-American corporate plot that Rubinstein advances and the success of Hitler at home and abroad was a much more complex story. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful, suspenseful, well-written, touching, book, and it is highly recommended.

Severin Hochberg
Teaches at George Washington University and was formerly a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The views expressed here are his own.

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