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History with its facts and numbers can sometimes be a little abstract, but add the human element – a name and a story – and it can come alive, as Austrian writer and historian Martin Pollack demonstrates with these three great books:

The first book by Martin Pollack I came across was actually his most recent publication. In “Kaiser von Amerika – Die große Flucht aus Galizien” (Emperor of America – The big escape from Galicia) Pollack describes what it meant for emigrants to leave everything behind in Eastern Europe (the book is about the historical region Galicia in Central Europe, between today’s Poland and Ukraine) in the late 19th and early 20th century, in search of a better future in a new land: the promising United States of America.

kaiserGalicia, which was at the time the poorest region in the Hapsburg monarchy, saw peasants, craftsman and many others leave to follow their dreams for a better future. The hard part was getting there, because the dream of the poorest became a business for many others. Agents of big shipping companies, human traffickers, and spies scrambled to get hold of the emigrants who were easily swindled, because most of them were illiterate.

As a historian, the author researched the topic thoroughly and what makes his book so outstanding is that the names, dates and facts are real, and the author reconstructs parts of the protagonists’ lives with what he has at hand. The results are touching stories about the losers of society in a desperate search for a better life and their interactions with those who unscrupulously exploit the ones that are already left with nothing.

anklageIn his book, “Anklage Vatermord” (Accusation of Patricide), Martin Pollack tells a completely different story based on real facts about a hiking accident in the Tyrol in September 1928. When the Jewish Latvian dentist Morduch Max Halsmann and his son Philipp go for a hike during their vacation in the Tyrol, the father falls down an apparently not very dangerous slope and dies. The same day the son is arrested as his suspected murderer. While many people believe in his innocence, many believe in his guilt. Law experts, doctors, writers, and intellectuals from Sigmund Freud to Albert Einstein show support for the accused, who is eventually found guilty and spends two years in prison before he is pardoned by the Austrian President. He later moves to the U.S. and becomes a successful and well-known photographer for LIFE and Vogue magazines. The truth about what really happened on that September day back in 1928 will probably never be fully known.

bunkerThe dead man in the bunker”, the only book by Martin Pollack currently available in English, is a very personal story.

“In 1947, a man is found shot to death in an old military bunker near the Brenner Pass that links Italy to Austria. His papers claim him to be a farm laborer; the scars on his face could only have come from dueling, the mark of a man who was once a member of a German student fraternity. He is Dr. Gerhard Bast, lawyer, athlete, former head of the Gestapo in the Austrian city of Linz and a wanted war criminal. A few years before, his affair with a married woman led to the birth of a son, Martin Pollack, who in his maturity sets out to discover the truth about his father.” © faber and faber

“Kaiser von Amerika – Die große Flucht aus Galizien” and “Anklage Vatermord – Der Fall Philipp Halsmann” are available in German, “Der Tote im Bunker/The dead man in the bunker” is available in German and English in our library.