In praise of older books: Into that Darkness by Gitta Sereny (1974)

Week 46: Julie Parsons on her favourite books

Gitta Sereny looked Stangl in the eye. And in doing so she challenges us to look at ourselves.

Gitta Sereny looked Stangl in the eye. And in doing so she challenges us to look at ourselves.

 

Treblinka extermination camp. Some 700,000-900,000 Jews and 2,000 gypsies murdered there. Franz Stangl, Kommandant, described his first impressions: “ “I stepped knee-deep into money. . . I waded in notes, currency, precious stones, jewellery . . . The smell was indescribable; . . . thousands of bodies everywhere.”” Under his command it would become an efficient operation. “I’d be working in my office . . . till about eleven. Then I made my next round, starting up at the Totenlager. By that time they were well ahead of the work up there.” Gitta Sereny who spent 70 hours interviewing Stangl, elucidates: “By this time the 5,000 to 6,000 people who had arrived that morning were dead: the ‘work’ was the disposal of the bodies which took most of the rest of the day.” Stangl continues: “A transport was normally dealt with in two or three hours. At twelve, I had lunch . . . we usually had meat, potatoes, some fresh vegetables.”

Shared guilt

Sereny met Stangl in 1971. He was in prison in Dusseldorf, appealing against a life sentence; she was looking for answers. “Whether evil is created by circumstances or by birth, and to what extent it is determined by the individual himself, or by his environment.” Stangl dissembled, lied, excused, justified. But Sereny would not give up. She questioned him, hour after hour. “ “My conscience is clear about what I did, myself,” he said. As he always said. “But I was there . . . So yes,” he said, finally “in reality I share the guilt.”

Nineteen hours later, Stangl was dead from heart failure. Sereny speculated; he died, “because he had finally, however briefly, faced himself and told the truth.”

Into That Darkness tells a savage truth. It’s a “look away” kind of book. But look away at your peril. Sereny looked Stangl in the eye. And in doing so she challenges us to look at ourselves. To ask: who am I? What would I do? What is my truth?

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.