Vienna 1939

Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk (Synergy Press 2007)

I love the concept of “Vienna Dolorosa”—the entire novel, all 241 pages, takes place on one day, March 12, 1938 as the Nazi army entered Vienna and began to destroy the city. Our narrators are two marginalized characters—Frau Friska, hotel/ house of assignation manager and transvestite and Petya, a young male prostitute who lives at the hotel. As the novel progresses, we get narrations from other characters as well and what they have to say is not pretty.

The Hotel Redl is more than just a hotel—it is a house of pleasure who enjoy a different kind of sex with boys who dress as girls and it is from this location that Frau Friska watches what seems to be the destruction of Vienna. The Nazis did not just invade the city but storms the city leaving a wake of destruction behind. Friska tries very hard to keep her guests and clients safe as the action continues. Because of the mood set early in the book, this is not an easy read but it is a very rewarding one. Here is another look at man’s inhumanity to man as we watch the destruction of a city along with those that live within it.
A plot that takes place one day and a single location could be quite boring but that is the total opposite here. It could become a very tiring read yet that is not the case here. What propels this book are the characters who are wonderfully drawn. Somehow many have forgotten that Jews were not the only minority affected by the Holocaust. What was to become a vibrant GLBT community also suffered greatly as well as gypsies, non-Aryans, Catholics, people of color and it is safe to say that every minority felt the worst crime in the history of mankind.

There has always been a fascination with the Holocaust and its crimes and I was not surprised to read about the sadism of the Nazis. Here is where the novel assumes a dark tone and for me, especially, the novel hit be hard as I am both Jewish and gay. We see how far reaching the Holocaust has been (notice I am using the present perfect tense) and still is today. The psychological aspects of it still bring adult men to tears. It is inconceivable for do many sadistic crimes took place in Vienna in a very short twenty four period. The author has given us characters that are carefully drawn and within each there exists something that we are not told to keep us curious. As the action unfolds we learn about that missing something. The characters can be divided into two camps—good and evil although the boundaries are not totally closed.

Some the description here is both shocking and horrifying but this is also not new. The atrocities of the Holocaust have been thrown at us for many years but I must say that the author’s descriptions are deep and caused me to have to stop, sit back, think and read again. For me that is the sign of a good writer even if what we read is unspeakable yet can be a catalyst that takes us to a place where we see what being human and humane is all about. This is not a book that one will easily forget but remember that it takes a strong stomach to read it and the rewards are great. I do not want to say that some of it is too strong—I don’t believe anything about the Holocaust can be too strong. In fact “Vienna Dolorosa” reminds us about an infamous period of history that must be preserved. We are now at the point that those survived Nazi Germany are small in number and it is becoming smaller everyday as that generation dies. Soon we will have only books (and ebooks) to tell the story. Dementiuk tells one aspect of the story and even though this fiction, it is based on fact.