When acclaimed historian Gotz Aly (The Nazi Census, Hitler's Beneficiaries) heard he was to receive the 2003 Marion Samuel Prize an award given by the German Remembrance Foundation, an organization dedicated to researching and commemorating the lives of Holocaust victims he wondered who Marion Samuel was. She was, he quickly learned, nobody. Marion Samuel was a name only, a name randomly selected from a memorial book of murdered German Jews. She was a faceless and forgotten 11-year-old girl about whom nothing was known but the year of her birth (1931), and the date of her deportation to Auschwitz (March 3, 1943). For Aly, this dearth of information was a clear invitation to fill in the blanks.
Thus began a painstaking and ingenious investigation, the result of which is this slim but powerful record: Into the Tunnel: The Brief Life of Marion Samuel, 1931-1943. As a historian of the Shoah (which means annihilation ), Aly has the tools necessary to reconstruct a life out of almost nothing. Among his sources (several of them reproduced for the reader) are old Berlin address books, vaccination records, federal archives and bureaucratic records. Especially chilling is the Property Declaration listing the value of items left in the Samuel family apartment after their deportation to Auschwitz: a flower table, a wash stand, a lamp, a child's chair (designated as worthless ). A newspaper ad leads the author to the discovery of a former classmate, a woman who remembers the last time she ever saw Marion. Alone and frightened, Marion blurted to her friend, People go into a tunnel in a mountain, and along the way there is a great hole and they all fall in and disappear. Marion Samuel did go into a tunnel of sorts, and because she was forgotten, there she stayed. Until now. Into the Tunnel pieces fragments of an ordinary life into an extraordinary fabric of remembrance. By restoring one girl's history, Gotz Aly helps us bear witness to the unique fate of one innocent consumed by the Holocaust. Joanna Brichetto received Vanderbilt University's first-ever master's degree in Jewish Studies last year.