Analysis: Shared Sorrows and The Men with the Pink Triangle
Most of Holocaust literature depicts Jewish victimhood. One will imagine images of Auschwitz, gas chambers, and furnaces. Images of the countless dead thrown into vast pits come to mind. However, there was more to the Holocaust than the extermination of European Jewry. Hitler planned the extermination of all “Undesirables” from Germany. This group included not only Jews, but Gypsies and homosexuals. Books like Shared Sorrows and The Men with the Pink Triangle describe the plight of these little mentioned groups during the Holocaust.
In Shared Sorrows, the author is an outsider not only to the survivors she interviews but also to the whole Sinti Gypsy community. But the mutual affection between Toby and the Mettbach and Hollenreiner families is evident as she is told memories that are rarely shared. For example, Rosa Mettbach speaks of horrors. She makes four failed escape attempts, each time punished more harshly. Yet, she survives several concentration camps. Sonneman relays detailed memories of the camps; the smells of burning flesh, the ashen air, the lice crawling about one’s head.
Toby Sonneman is given a glimpse into a society that is not understood by the outside world. Instead of giving the usual lecture on what happened, what they suffered through, Toby gives the events and characters a humanity—a face. The author writes about the pastries she and Rosa Mettbach eat during the interviews. Rosa is mentioned as a chain-smoking grandmother who indulges in her own prejudices. The Sinti were (and still are) victims of prejudice, but they have their own prejudice. Some of this prejudice rubs off on Toby. The author struggles at how to view the Germans she comes across, were they all compliant or did some stand up and help the helpless? Toby examines this question when visiting the home her family was forced to leave and meeting Germans who stayed. The people of Dachau must have heard or smelled the atrocities at the edge of town. I also pondered over Sonneman’s question. I found Shared Sorrows to be more than a collection of testimonies, but rather a study in human nature itself.
One can admire the author’s conscience in listening and recording the testimonies, but...