Author Mary Fulbrook (second from right) with historian Geoffrey Hosking, Anna Silva, a representative of Oxford University Press (right),
and Susan Sinclair, a popular scout-cub leader in Holborn and a friend of the Fulbrooks
Published: 1 November, 2012
by JOHN GULLIVER
MARY Fulbrook is a London University historian who, in her field of German history, is a prolific author of several acclaimed tomes.
But her latest book, A Small Town Near Auschwitz (Oxford University Press, £20) proved painful to write.
Partly, it was because it was so personal.
Driven to record the vagaries thrown up by history she stumbled on something very personal – and yet so compelling.
Her godmother turned out to have been married to that special kind of “monster”, the German functionary, who oversaw the Nazi holocaust in operation – and as a Nazi party member lacked any kind of moral judgement.
I met Mary on Monday evening at the launch of her book at Waterstones bookshop in Gower Street, Bloomsbury, and in an introductory remark, said that I suppose it took a special kind of “German” mind to explain the horror of the man, Udo Klausa, she described so brilliantly in the book.
“No, not a German mind,” she said, correcting me straight away.
“But the mind of a certain kind of person. He was a powerful man, the chief executive of a very large area in Germany, a kind of county council.”
I said I had often thought many politicians had that kind of mental framework. Look at how they can take decisions to go to war, for instance, I said, not thinking or caring about the consequences.
"Look at how Tony Blair and his aides effectively cooked up support for an illegal war in Iraq, and the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, who have been slaughtered in it", I said.
She didn’t seem to entirely agree with me.
The book launch attracted several historians, some from her department, and she told them that when she described her feelings to her editor, Chris Wheeler, he told her – as you would expect an editor to say – “Write it as you told it to me.”
It had caused so much pain to write it, she said, because she had often met Udo Klausa and had always thought he had had nothing to do with the Holocaust. He had always told family and friends that he had fought in the army in the Eastern Front – without mentioning his long membership of the Nazi party.
If the man hadn’t been a friend of the family it would have been easier to write. But as a professional historian, she had found it “painful” to maintain the required sense of detachment.
All of her family, it turned out, helped her with the book.
Her son, Conrad, helped to select the photographs while her husband, Julian, a lawyer and a veteran Camden Labour councillor, assisted, too.
“I met Udo a few times,” Julian told me at the family home in Holborn.
“He passed through the de-Nazification net with the help of a friend, and we, of course, never knew about all that.
"He was a high civil servant in West Germany and had links with officials over here.
"I think he knew the former chief executive of Birmingham Council.”