These must-read stories made us think that reality is about to overcome fiction.
"When we came to Ebensee, the hunger and the labor and the way especially for us Jews, the way we were treated, we were sure that not one will survive that camp, that this was it. The man in charge of our block was a professional killer. He enjoyed so much killing people. The people who went to the hospitals when they were sick there, hardly one came out alive. The people who were not working, who were in that hospital, Jews received half of the rations that the normal worker received. Non-Jews began the regular rations if they were not too long in that hospital. Uh...we went, I remember, to the shower, in that camp. It was the end of February, the beginning of March. It was still cold. When we came out from the shower, we stood outside I don't know how long. Without clothes, without wiping ourselves off. I would never believe that a person can survive standing in the outside in the wintertime without clothes for so long."
This is one of the many stories of Leo Schneiderman, a Polish man who survived the gruesome fatalities of concentration camps in Austria. Most of us have read these heartbreaking narrations more than once, and for sure, they never fail to make our soul ache. It is clear that testimonials like Leo's have been a very strong source of inspiration for amazing but blood-curdling literature. Since totalitarian regimes have been part of society for a long time, the need to talk about it through different portrayals has become stronger over the years.
As interesting as they are, stories that revolve around totalitarian regimes tend to be spooky too because they describe situations that have happened or keep happening in some countries. Whether the authors tempt our imagination with dystopian futures or create fictional stories in real life events, the everyday life episodes of these books invite us to think about ourselves and our history, about the situation of certain countries, and what we can do to stop this. If you want to delve into these stories, here are seven books you must read:
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
A first-person narration by Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, this story was presented as a diary written by D-503, a mathematician and builder of the Integral (a spaceship destined to travel to other planets to subjugate the inhabitants who may still be living in the primitive condition of freedom). The diary is to be carried on the space mission and is addressed to the unknown beings of these planets in order to explain and justify their enslavement. The novel was first published in English in 1924 by E. P. Dutton in New York in a translation by Gregory Zilboorg, but its first publication in the Soviet Union had to wait until 1988 because of censorship.
1984 by George Orwell
This classic novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), province of the superstate of Oceania, a place of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation. Residents are ruled by a political regime named the English Socialism. The superstate is under the control of the Inner Party, a privileged elite that persecutes individualism and independent thinking through an enforcement team called "Thought Police." So, you get the idea. Freedom of thought is a threat to the government, and because of this, thinking is suppressed. Manipulated information and invasive surveillance take big part of this troubling plot.
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
Based on a true story, Alone in Berlin is the gripping tale of an ordinary man's determination to defy the tyranny of Nazism. In 1940, at the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, in Berlin, its various occupants try to survive the fascist regime in their different ways. Among them, the unassuming couple of Otto and Anna Quangel change their passive attitude after receiving the news that their beloved son has been killed while fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance and a deadly cat-and-mouse game between the Quangels and the ruthless Gestapo inspector Escherich.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This novel by American writer Ray Bradbury revolves around a futuristic society where books are outlawed and "firemen" are in charge of burning them all. The lead character, a fireman named Montag, becomes disillusioned with his role in censoring works and destroying knowledge. He eventually quits his job and joins a resistance group that memorizes and shares the world's greatest literary and cultural masterpieces.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Another insanely good read from Orwell, this story reflects the events that led to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War.
The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard Evans
Considered one of the world’s most distinguished historians, Evans has written one of the most remarkable descriptions of this particular time in history. Evans’s history adds drama and contingency to the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis. Moreover, this book shows how Germany's historical context in the early 1930s was preparing the country for such a takeover to occur. The Coming of the Third Reich is a true piece of art you should read if you're really interested in totalitarian regimes and their origins.
Mussolini's Italy by R. J. B. Bosworth
Bosworth vividly brings to life the period in which Italians were part of one of the twentieth century’s most notorious political movements. Il Duce’s Fascists were the original totalitarians, since their cult of violence and obedience inspired many other dictatorships, including Hitler's. But as Bosworth reveals in his book, many Italians resisted this ideology, finding ingenious ways to keep Fascism from rooting in their society as deeply as it did in Germany.
While they're essentially different narrations, all of these books are worth reading because their stories will captivate your soul and they'll also make you think about global concerns that are overcoming fiction as we speak. While in this time and age totalitarian regimes don't look like the ones portrayed in some of the previously mentioned books, they're very real. They have evolved, and certainly, they perpetuate a reality no one wants to live in.
Today, however, we have tools to act against these adversities. We can learn from history and speak against the oppression of others when we have the opportunity to do so. While we might think there's a new mindset in the world, there are still thousands of people thinking totalitarianism is the best way to control others. There's still a long way to go for us to suppress this type of mindset. Nevertheless, we can do so by informing ourselves through these reads and manifest against these regimes.
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