“Götz and Meyer” by David Albahari, translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac (A Harvest Book/Harcourt)

Review by Richard B. Edwards

This Holocaust novel harkens back to the phrase “the banality of evil” that political theorist Hannah Arendt coined in her book on Adolf Eichmann’s trial.

In the novel, an unnamed Jewish school teacher in Belgrade, himself a Holocaust survivor, has been researching his family tree in 1992. He discovers to his overwhelming dismay that two of his relatives, Wilhelm Götz and Erwin Meyer – were noncommissioned SS officers involved in the systematic murder of Jews in the winter of 1942.

Götz and Meyer are assigned by the Gestapo to transport Serbian Jewish women, children and the elderly to their deaths in a specially designed truck. The truck’s exhaust pipe is hooked up to an opening on the underside of the truck’s cabin, killing the people inside by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Götz and Meyer perform this transport task routinely two to three times a day. Reichsführer Himmler claims this method of killing is more humane than other methods the Nazis were employing.

The schoolteacher becomes increasingly tormented as he imagines the day-to-day, hour-by-hour, twisted, depraved behavior of his two relatives half a century earlier. The teacher organizes a class trip for his students – and for himself- in order to remember and commemorate this particularly tragic part of “The Final Solution.”

This short novel (168 pages) is written without paragraphs, as if to suggest that man’s inhumanity to man goes on and on, without pause, but with continuing indifference. Even through today.

Such is the banality of evil.

Richard B. Edwards is a polyglot and a longtime Albuquerque resident.