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Into That Darkness

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Gitta Sereny, who after the fall of France cared for abandoned children, after the war joined UNRRA working in camps for displaced persons in Germany. Her study of Franz Stangl, the Kommandant of the extermination camp of Treblinka is exhaustive and harrowing.


Of course we all know about the trainloads of Jews and others sent to their death under Nazi order. Sereny spares us nothing of the details, but her main aim here is to penetrate into the motive and scruples of one ordinary ambitious man who becomes, almost in spite of himself, a mass-murderer. To describe Stangl as a cold-blooded butcher of innocent helpless fellow humans would be too simple. Throughout her interviews with Stangl after his conviction in Dusseldorf, her subject helps her to understand how he gradually sank into acceptance of his role as an efficient death-dealer. One comes to understand the roles assigned to Ukranian guards, Jewish gestapo and Polish workers in the death camps. As for the Kommandant, he never spoke or even made eye-contact with his victims: 'Stangl? I never saw him kill or hurt anyone,,' said a Polish survivor, 'But why should he have? He didn't have to. He was no sadist like some of the others, and he was the Kommandant.'


A family man, desperately afraid of being exposed as a sympathiser, tortured not so much by what he was doing as that his wife would find out the truth of his many postings and accepting for a while that he was sworn to secrecy. But when Frau Stangl discovered the truth their marriage almost collapsed. It was certainly never the same again. How could it be?


These painstakingly put-together accounts by survivors, many of whom amazingly and courageously testified in defence of Stangl, make gruesome reading, but remind us of what even basically decent human beings are capable of. Serengy has given us a salutory journey 'Into That Darkness.'

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