Marianne Aufmann’s novel “The Almond Tree”

Sometimes the father would take his young son to visit friends: “In his friends’ little apartment someone was playing the violin and almost all the men and women were crying in their eyes or crying in public. (…) They spoke Yiddish and called I jingle, she hugged me and ran my hair tenderly through them. Some sang to the melody of the violin softly and slowly. Suddenly a young woman began to shout loudly. My father quickly led me into another room.”

Munich in the early fifties. In the former “movement capital”, the stronghold of National Socialism, the Jewish community is back again. In 1945, no one thought that Jewish life would be possible again in the land of the killers, yet it begins anew, in both German states, because some dare, because chance brings them here from their lost homeland or simply. Do not have the strength to go. This is also the theme of Marianne Offmann’s entire Mandelbaum novel: German-Jewish life after the Holocaust, affinity and isolation, a yearning for belonging and recurring doubts about whether such a thing is ever possible. Duration can be.

The Holocaust dominates perception, while large parts of the non-Jewish environment no longer wish to see or hear anything about it

Munich readers may be familiar with Offmann, who was born in the city in 1948: he was a Jewish community board member for decades and was an active member of the city council from 2002 to 2020, in the CSU parliamentary group. At the same time, he campaigned against xenophobia, against the Nazis, PEGIDA and racism, and campaigned for refugees and good coexistence between Jews and Muslims. Quite a few of his CSU party friends were often overwhelmed with this very politely. Marianne Offmann mostly turned out to be a constructive alien game, which certainly has nothing to do with lateral thinking.

“The Almond Tree” is a powerfully autobiographical book. Pure fiction is only a background story: at a neo-Nazi demonstration on Munich’s Odeonsplatz, where Adolf Hitler’s 1923 coup attempt collapsed under Bavarian police fire, riots broke out. Mandelbaum’s replacement for Offman was in the front row of counter-demonstrators. He was pushed from behind. His heavy camera, which he used to take pictures of right-wing extremists, slammed into the head of “Hintermoser,” a famous Nazi who was walking toward the ground sagging and falling into a coma. Mandelbaum is arrested and spends the night in a Munich police cell.

Marianne Offmann: Mandelbaum. a novel. Volk Verlag, Munich 2022. 320 pages, €25.

It is better for you to remain silent, I suppose, every word could be wrong. It is difficult for me not to ask for evidence and not to express the well-known closeness of the officials of the right. This is no longer my country, this is the country of the perpetrators. Great cold comes to my mind “.

So he lies sleepless on a foul-smelling mattress and spends his life in it. The construction of this novel seems daring at first glance, but it works best from page to page: What goes through Mandelbaum’s head that night is a kind of waking nightmare – perhaps not far from the deeply rooted and often profound unconscious transformation. Fears of people like Marianne Ofmann. Menschen, die sich einsetzen für den demokratischen Rechtsstaat, sich identifizieren mit der deutschen Republik, mit den liberalen Freiheiten, der Toleranz – und doch nie die Erfahrung früherer Generationen, ihrer eigenen Elternel alltern und Gross und gess in gessen, n. he is.

Offman is a talented narrator, and even if there is some literature on the new beginnings of Jewish communities in the young Federal Republic, his memories of the early years, told from the perspective of a child and adolescent, are poignant. The Holocaust dominates the perception, while large parts of the non-Jewish environment no longer wish to see or hear anything about it, eagerly seize the opportunity to forget it as soon as political conditions permit.

A lot of mainstream society is trying to make it the other, weird

Unlike survivors, like Father Mandelbaum, who married an 18-year-old girl because she reminded him of his wife who had been killed by the Germans: “She was still very young (…) he wanted to take back the life taken by the Nazis – and worse: he saw in the young woman a connection In his past life. This marriage cannot go well.”

It also does not work well. The story of Young Mandelbaum is the most moving part of the novel, as Offmann also describes Mandelbaum’s paths and wrong turns through Catholic schools (“You can’t not celebrate Christmas. Everyone celebrates Christmas!”) and private schools. It’s a life in which a lot of mainstream society tries to make him the other, odd one out, someone who exists but doesn’t really belong. It is the life of the decades-long struggle against it, in which many people, not just Jews, must identify themselves.

Munich readers may enjoy identifying well-known figures in city politics by their fictional names — and some of these characters, in turn, will be embarrassed when Offmann describes in great detail how they are trying to impress city councilman Mandelbaum, as a leading figure. Jew, to serve their ends and exploit them. Especially at CSU, this is likely to be greeted with mixed feelings. In the end, Offmann felt misunderstood and was no longer at home at the party and switched to the SPD. Today he is the integration official in Munich.

But in order to profitably read the novel, one does not necessarily have to know the conditions in Munich. The book speaks for itself – and it’s not a story of failure, but actually a story of how one learns to overcome distance and distance, no matter how great they may be. The symbol of this is the new Jewish Center and Synagogue on Jakobsplatz, which opened in 2007, a splendid lighthouse architecture with a message: This community belongs in the heart of our city.

Offmann’s narrator plays with self-irony and subtle humor. Then he confronts his readers again with daily descriptions that say everything in a very small space: “Every Saturday after the synagogue I would visit my father in his shop. At about the age of eighty he still sat in his little fur shop every day” Friends often sat with him: “Often The old men had tears in their eyes, interrupting conversations and looking at me silently and shyly. I was sure that a few seconds ago they were talking about the fading world of their youth and their murdered families.”

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