The ultimate horror of the Holocaust is the fact that it is already in danger of being forgotten. Within the last few months, our own President chose to honor the fallen soldiers of Nazi Germany at Bitburg, and our own veterans chose to gather in a reunion with veterans of the murderous SS. And we can find yet more evidence of this scandalous historical whitewash--this shameful spectacle of moral amnesia--in an otherwise obscure little book called Nazi Para-Military Organizations and Their Badges by Ray Cowdery (Northstar, Box 803, Lakeville, Minn. 55044: $19.95), a study of the all-pervasive organizational hierarchy into which the German people were herded by their Nazi masters.
"There exists a group of educated, well-adjusted people who simply refuse to dwell on the documentation of past horrors," writes Cowdery by way of introduction to his impressively detailed survey of Nazi paramilitary units and their regalia. "To the people in this group, the possibility to extract the last ounce of reparations, or to assign the guilt for something that occurred 40 years ago is meaningless." And Cowdery concludes: "It is obvious that there was an enormous, creative organizational force at work in central Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and it gave birth to Naziism . . . I frankly feel that every German has a right to take pride in Naziism, in the same way we Americans take pride in the Confederacy during our Civil War, without being labeled neo-Nazi."
On the surface, of course, "Nazi Para-Military Organizations" is merely an annotated catalogue of pins and badges, a reference work of interest only to those who collect Nazi paraphernalia. I come across similar volumes from time to time--and, for what it's worth, this one appears to be comprehensive, well-documented and seriously intended. But it is also a celebration, not altogether unwitting, of a regime whose minions murdered 6 million Jewish men, women and children. The author himself is unapologetic: "I feel no obligation to offset a positive statement about Naziism with a negative one," he writes. But I feel an obligation to remind myself of the crimes against humanity that were committed by those who wore the pins and badges so lovingly collected and reproduced in his book.
Gun People by Parick Carr and George W. Gardner (Doubleday/Dolphin: $16.95) offers a unique and compelling perspective on the function and symbolism of guns in the lives of Americans: a medical secretary from New York ("I've tried to get the wives of some of the men shooters into it, but they don't seem as interested as I am"), a Nashville record producer ("I decided, 'No more squeezing off rounds in the house' "), a Florida-based Air Force fighter pilot ("Basically, a fighter aircraft is a flying gun"), and even Otis Chandler ("At the drop of a hat I will try to articulate the major points about why sport hunting, which is what I do, is a moral and justifiable avocation"). These short, vivid and revealing portraits--each one featuring a short soliloquy by its subject, and an elegant black-and-white photographic portrait--tend to debunk the myth of the "gun nut." Indeed, we are struck by the diversity, the eloquence and the sturdy mental health of the men and women who own and shoot guns.
Activist and advocate William Kuntsler is moved to poetry in Trials and Tribulations (Grove/Evergreen: $7.95; also available in hardcover, $22.50), an odd but endearing memoir in verse. "The 103 sonnets in this volume were, with rare exceptions, all begun during quiet moments in various courtrooms around the country," he explains. "I chose the sonnet form because, like the law, it has a rather rigid and well-defined structure." Kuntsler introduces each poem with a short explanatory preface, and then proceeds to ponder the mechanics of a trial ("Jury Selection," "Sentencing Day," "The Law of Libel"), his heroes and villains ("Bobby Seale," "Rosa Parks" and "The Rosenbergs" as well as "J. Edgar Hoover," "Roy Cohn" and "Judge Julius J. Hoffman"), and the struggles of his long career ("People v. Lemuel Smith," "Mississippi Summer," "The Surrender of Dennis Banks"). The grizzled old "cause" lawyer is something of a neo-classicist poet, occasionally witty but mostly solemn. "She understood that fame had its demand/ To justify the shining of the light," he writes of Jane Fonda. "Strange that this voice that once mouthed urgent pleas/ Now teaches women how to bend their knees."
Actually, you don't need a child in tow to make use of Elizabeth Pomada's Places to Go With Children in Northern California (Chronicle, 1 Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco 94102: $7.95)--the 350 parks, museums, ghost towns and other attractions that she describes in the updated third edition add up to a useful checklist for tourists and travelers of any age. But parents will appreciate Pomada's attention to family restaurants and sites that cater to children. Then, too, there's Marian Hamilton's savvy guide to the Big Apple, The Best Things in New York Are Free (Harvard Common/Kampmann: $10.950), which catalogues more than 1,000 events, activities and attractions that make up "the secret free world of New York City."