Götz Aly: Digging into historical archives, he pieces together the life of an 11-year-old victim of the Holocaust

Historians in the News

In 2003, the German Remembrance Foundation awarded the historian Götz Aly the Marion Samuel Prize, which commemorates the one million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. It was named for a young victim whose name was chosen at random from the lists of the dead, a gesture meant to underscore the tragic anonymity of the Holocaust’s casualties. In accepting the tribute, Aly set out on a mission to uncover the life of Marion Samuel, to rescue her at least from obscurity.

The idea was inspired, though perhaps not surprising, given Aly’s background. He is the author of “Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State,” in which he argued that ordinary Germans supported the Nazi regime not because they were inherently anti-

Semitic, or blinded by Hitler’s charisma, but for the relatively mundane reason that the Reich’s policies raised their standard of living. To buttress his argument, Aly mined a staggering amount of data — a method he uses again to great effect in “Into the Tunnel: The Brief Life of Marion Samuel, 1931-1943.” In his quest to learn about Marion, who was 11 when she was killed, Aly draws on every imaginable source: He places an article in a German newspaper and scours municipal records, old Berlin telephone books and even switchboard.com — to dig up what is quite probably every recorded word and artifact relating to Marion and her family. He finds exact schedules for the train that transported several of Marion’s relatives to their deaths, and discovers that her own deportation cost six and a half Reich pennies per mile. Among other sources, this slim volume reproduces the Gestapo decree concerning the expropriation of the Samuel family’s property and the listing of Marion’s name in the German national archive’s memorial book of murdered German Jews...

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