This book features the travelogue genre. The book’s title is “Schlepping through the Alps” in reference to the Austrian Alps. The Author of this book is 25-year-old Sam Apple. From the book’s subtitle, it is clear that focus is on Austria’s Jews and their history. The subtitle quips that the author’s journey is a “search for the Jewish past with the last wandering shepherd”. Although the book reveals a novice approach to travelogue, it still manages to uncover various aspects of Austria’s Jewish history.
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Sam Apple was first exposed to Jewish history when he was invited to a community centre in New York. At the community centre, Apple met Hans Breuer an Austrian shepherd who was giving a historical presentation on Jewish history. During the presentation, Breuer was showing picture slides of his flock and singing Yiddish ditties. Breuer claimed to sing to his sheep when he was “schlepping” or moving them from one pasture to another.
He also claimed to perform Yiddish ditties among the rural communities he encountered during his shepherding duties. When he first met Breuer, Apple was a journalist but Breuer’s story intrigued him. Eventually, he decided to visit Breuer in Vienna where he interviewed several people about Jewish history.
The author depicts himself as a neurotic, inexperienced, and opinionated youthful New Yorker. When he first arrives in Austria, his only connection to Jewish history is his grandmother who was particularly vocal on anti-Semitism. The author is also quick to note that he has never experienced any anti-Semitism in the course of his life.
The book also highlights his naivety as portrayed by his excess luggage and misinformed views on Jewish matters. Apple derives most of his Jewish experience from his Jewish grandmother. He notes that his grandmother viewed the world in terms of “us” (Jews) and “those” (Gentiles).
The narrator’s main subject of study is 45-year-old Hans Breuer. Hans is an odd character whose eccentric nature is highlighted by his interactions with the rural folk. Breuer undertakes his shepherding together with his wife with whom he has three boys. The author quips that Hans also engages in extra marital affairs.
Hans’s Jewish heritage is derived from his Jewish father. His mother was not Jewish but both of his parents were active communists in Vienna. Hans has spent most of his youth travelling through Europe as a member of the Spartacus Communist faction. Eventually, Hans became a wandering shepherd making it his business to move with his flock from one place to another.
The book’s focus is not necessarily the interaction between the two main characters. However, the book addresses Austria’s connection to the Jewish history in depth. This connection includes the country’s fascist past as well as the hypocrisy surrounding German invasion.
According to the book, even if the Nazi’s invaded Austria, the Austrians never showed any resistance towards this invasion. The author also claims that the German Army received very friendly welcomes in some parts of Austria. Moreover, there is evidence that shows that many Austrian citizens enlisted in the German Army around the time of the holocaust.
When he sings Yiddish ditties, Hans’ goal is to shed light on the historical aspects of the Jewish people in Austria. His provocations are quite effective because his “schlepping” has him moving from one place to another. Therefore, in every place that he visits, he tries to interest people in Jewish history. Most of these towns and villages have a connection to Jews who either lived there in the past or are currently living there.
The Yiddish proverbs and songs are also meant to provoke the ignorance of the Austrians when it comes to Jewish history. While most of the countries in Eastern Europe have owned up to their contributions to anti-Semitism, Austria continues to ignore its fascist past. For instance, Austria only made half-hearted efforts to prosecute Nazi criminals as opposed to Germany and other European countries.
The book also cites examples of instances where former Nazi sympathizers have found their way into Austria’s top leadership. For example, in 1999 the Freedom Party (formerly affiliated to Nazi) received over 27% of Austria’s vote. The Yiddish references by Breuer are meant to provoke the elements of Austrian population that are unsympathetic towards the complicated Jewish past.
When apple learns enough facts about Austria, he finds himself in the same bandwagon with Hans. In some instances, the author notes that he finds himself annoyed because most of the people he is interviewing do not make anti-Semitic remarks. His relationship with his Austrian girlfriend is also compromised by this worldview.
He questions whether the girl is with him just to avoid dealing with a guilt complex. Both Hans and the author use humor when they are trying to provoke Austrians into confronting the Jewish history. This is why Hans sings the Yiddish ditties.
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“Schlepping through the Alps” is a travel narrative that addresses the discoveries of the author about Austria and its connection to Jewish history. The author also goes through a process of self-discovery in the course of his travels. This travel narrative provides a good read and a thought provoking commentary on Austria’s involvement in the Third Reich.