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Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death

Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death

Reflections on Memory and Imagination

Otto Dov Kulka

Translated by Ralph Mandel

ISBN 9780674072893

Publication date: 03/19/2013

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Historian Otto Dov Kulka has dedicated his life to studying and writing about Nazism and the Holocaust. Until now he has always set to one side his personal experiences as a child inmate at Auschwitz. Breaking years of silence, Kulka brings together the personal and historical, in a devastating, at times poetic, account of the concentration camps and the private mythology one man constructed around his experiences.

Auschwitz is for the author a vast repository of images, memories, and reveries: “the Metropolis of Death” over which rules the immutable Law of Death. Between 1991 and 2001, Kulka made audio recordings of these memories as they welled up, and in Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death he sifts through these fragments, attempting to make sense of them. He describes the Family Camp’s children’s choir in which he and others performed “Ode to Joy” within yards of the crematoria, his final, indelible parting from his mother when the camp was liquidated, and the “black stains” along the roadside during the winter death march. Amidst so much death Kulka finds moments of haunting, almost unbearable beauty (for beauty, too, Kulka says, is an inescapable law).

As the author maps his interior world, readers gain a new sense of what it was to experience the Shoah from inside the camps—both at the time, and long afterward. Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death is a unique and powerful experiment in how one man has tried to understand his past, and our shared history.


  • Otto Dov Kulka has performed a minor miracle. He has written a masterpiece about his childhood in Auschwitz. With that he joins the select company of survivors who have dealt humanely with their experience of hell. But he comes late to his subject, and profits from long years of reflection. This lends his tone a rare richness and subtlety… Interspersed throughout are pithy abstractions, notably ‘the immutable law’ (echoing Kafka) and ‘the Great Death’ (recalling Rilke), which lend a lyrical, incantatory quality to the book. The narrative is also enriched with documentary photographs in the style of W. G. Sebald, showing painful memories: railway lines, piles of shoes, corpses in the snow. Yet for all its experimental character, and perhaps because of it, the story is lucid and direct… Kulka’s well-honed writing—excellently rendered into English by Ralph Mandel—bears witness to the worst that man can do to man, and in doing so testifies to the enduring power of the human spirit.

    —Jeremy Adler, Times Literary Supplement


  • Otto Dov Kulka is Rosenbloom Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Book Details

  • 144 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 inches
  • Belknap Press