Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Review: BLOOD BROTHERS, by Ernst Haffner
Blood Brothers is both a historical curiosity and a portrait of desperation. Originally published in 1932 and banned by Hitler for reasons that are not entirely clear, it tells the story of a group of itinerant young men in Weimar Germany- teens and young adults scraping their way on the margins of society, in a society in which the poor, and crime, were not supposed to exist.
Writing about crime, and the poor, was therefore a rebellious act in and of itself. Author Ernst Haffner was a journalist and social worker, but not Jewish although his publisher was. What happened to him during World War 2 is not known. So the reasons for Hitler's ire probably have to do as much with the message as with the messenger. In any case what he left is this book, which reflects the chaos and uncertainty of a country at a crisis point- the last years before Hitler's rise to power- and life on the margins of that country.
The story follows a group of boys and young men who form a loose gang and do what they can to survive. The most harrowing sequence involves one boy's journey on the bottom of a train, and another boy telling him how to hold tight to the gears to avoid being crushed to death. From there the boys battle with the police, the system of incarceration and the loopholes in the law that can both keep them safe and keep them on the run. The individual characters are almost less important than the big picture, the race for survival. These kids want love, want something like a family, but mostly they just want to eat, and to get to tomorrow. Two of them manage to set up a little scheme involving refurbishing used shoes, but they know the wolf is always at their heels.
And it's on that kind of note that the book ends, cautiously optimistic but knowing danger is never far. I'd recommend Blood Brothers to readers interested in the period, in coming of age stories and stories about young men on the edge. It's unforgettable.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.