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Asylum (review)

Asylum by Moriz Scheyer,translated by P.N. Singer, Profile Books, 306pp.

This memoir was written while Scheyer, an Austrian Jew, was fleeing persecution in Austria and hiding in France. Scheyer was a significant literary journalist in prewar Vienna. Shortly after the Anschluss, he fled to Paris, only to make a failed attempt to flee the city when the Germans invaded. Subsequently he escaped to unoccupied France, only to find himself and his people in increasing danger from German advance and the Vichy round-up of Jews. A failed attempt to escape to Switzerland, incarceration in French concentration camps and contact with the Resistance followed. He survived solely because of the kindness of strangers who hid him, and he eventually found refuge in a mental asylum run by Franciscan nuns.

The manuscript was found only by chance long after the war. It seems Scheyer may have made some attempt to publish, but the top copy was destroyed by the family, who thought it excessively anti-German in the post-war climate.

The book blazes with white-hot anger against the Germans and against French collaborators, and expresses fears that the sufferings of the Jews would be forgotten. This publication (2016) should help ensure that they will not be.

This menoir is well worth reading if you have any interest in the history of the period. Since Scheyer was a professional writer, it is eloquently written.

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