Götz and Meyer

Written by David Albahari (trans. Ellen Elias-Bursac)
Review by L.K. Mason

It is rare that a slim book can wield such emotional impact, but Götz and Meyer is small in page-length alone; the weight of its contents is heavy and heartbreaking. Götz and Meyer are two German SS non-commissioned officers who were assigned to drive a truck in which, over a period of weeks, they gassed to death 5,000 Jewish inmates of a Belgrade concentration camp. The nameless narrator of this story is a Jewish teacher in post-Cold War Belgrade; he imagines the lives of Götz and Meyer in an effort to come to terms with the murder of many of his relatives. Who were these two men, and what did they think of, if ever they thought of, the task assigned them?

As the narrator delves into the past, his obsession with discovering the truths of the lives lost in Belgrade begins to take its toll on his own health. The anonymous narrator re-creates the daily routines of the officers and the victims, holds imaginary conversations with Götz and Meyer, and wonders at who his family members were. Serbian novelist Albahari’s stream of consciousness narrative is a tale begun in a detached voice, dispassionately describing the gassing of the Jews; this voice grows more involved and consumed with the past as the story progresses. The narrator’s efforts to understand are painfully honest: “There is no comfort in death, the woman I met at the Jewish Historical Museum said, especially not in a death that someone else chooses for you. I wasn’t thinking of them, I shouted, but of myself, because those small consolations are the only weapons with which I can stand up to the meaningless and horrible void filling the faces of Götz and Meyer.” Haunting, lyrical, stunningly moving, and devastating. Highly recommended.