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The Buchenwald Child


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At the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp, communist prisoners organized resistance against the SS and even planned an uprising. They helped rescue a three-year-old Jewish boy, Stefan Jerzy Zweig, from certain death in the gas chambers. After the war, his story became a focus for the German Democratic Republic's celebration of its resistance to the Nazis.
Now Bill Niven tells the true story of Stefan Zweig: what actually happened to him in Buchenwald, how he was protected, and at what price. He explores the (mis)representation of Zweig's rescue in East Germany and what this reveals about that country's understanding of its Nazi past. Finally he looks at the telling of the Zweig rescue story since German unification: a story told in the GDR to praise communists has become a story used to condemn them.

Bill Niven is Professor of Contemporary German History at the Nottingham Trent University, UK.


In this original and thoroughly researched analysis, Bill Niven picks his way with admirable clarity through the tangled webs of spin and counter-spin, never claiming to attain a definitive narrative of what "really" happened, but also not shrinking from robust censure of overt distortion or partisanship. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

[A] very well-researched work of great insight and sophistication, a fine piece of scholarship that furthers our understanding of the way ideology was formed under Communism. CENTRAL EUROPEAN HISTORY

[A] lucidly written and fascinating study which draws on a variety of sources (interviews, archive, literature, film). It is that rare thing, a truly scholarly book that addresses and deserves a wide audience. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES

Zweig was persecuted as a "Jew" and rescued in Buchenwald as a "symbol of resistance" against Hitler. Both his persecution and rescue were used ideologically by the German Democratic Republic. Niven's study shows that Zweig was critical of the fact that the DDR used him, but that he simultaneously felt obligated to the memory of his Communist rescuers.... Stefan Jerzy Zweig became an object of the collective German memory and obviously this burden was his undoing. HUMANITIES -- SOZIAL- UND KULTURGESCHICHTE

Bill Niven traces the evolution of the story of the rescue of Stefan Jerzy Zweig, a four-year-old Jewish child imprisoned at Buchenwald ... in its transformation from a narrative that glorified the individual actions of the concentration camp inmates to one that legitimated the antifascist credentials of the East German state to its post-unification deconstruction.... What is most unique and refreshing about this study, however, is that the author never loses sight of the impact these changing narratives had on the original victim ... who became "thrice a victim: first of the Nazis, then of the GDR's manipulation of his rescue, and now of united Germany's redefinition of it." H-NET GERMAN

[T]his is a strong book that describes accurately the problems of interpreting the period of the second world war and the Holocaust under various political and historical conditions, and the personal costs of the consequential revaluations. Niven's book is further proof of the fact that memories of the second world war today are still crucial for national identities in virtually every nation.... JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY HISTORY


First Published: 08 Mar 2007
13 Digit ISBN: 9781571133397
21 black and white illustrations
Pages: 258
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Camden House
BIC Class: DSB

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  The Protection of Stefan Jerzy Zweig
  • 3  Building the Buchenwald Myth
  • 4  The Genesis and Impact of Naked among Wolves
  • 5  The Cinema Film of Naked among Wolves
  • 6  Stefan Jerzy Zweig and the GDR
  • 7  The Deconstruction of the Buchenwald Child Myth
  • 8  Epilogue
  • 9  Bibliography
  • 10  Index

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