Ryback, Timothy W. (Tim Ryback)
Ryback, Timothy W.
ADDRESSES: Home—Salzburg, Austria. Office—Salzburg Seminar, Schloss Leopoldskron, Leopoldsk-ronastrasse 56-58, Box 129, A-5010 Salzburg, Austria. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Pantheon Books, 201 E. 50th St., New York, NY 10022. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer and educator. Salzburg Seminar, vice president and director; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, former lecturer in history and literature.
The Last Survivor: In Search of Martin Zaidenstadt, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor to Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, and New York Times Magazine.
SIDELIGHTS: Timothy W. Ryback, an American who lives and works in Austria, is the author of books and articles about European politics and culture. In Rock around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, he describes the musical climate behind the iron curtain during the period from 1959 to 1990. Ryback details how the region's communist governments tried and failed to control popular music. Officially sanctioned groups, such as the Happy Guys, could not compete with western pop, and friction between fans and the state sometimes sparked riots. Marek Kohn, a critic for the New Statesman, described the book as "brisk but comprehensive." Kohn also found that eastern bloc tastes favored "the Jaggers, not the Muddy Waters and Robert Johnsons" and that rock music created by eastern bloc artists was rather unimpressive.
Ryback has written a book about life in the German town of Dachau, the site of the first Nazi concentration camp. He visited the place in 1992 and wrote an article for the New Yorker about the strange existence of a community closely associated with the horrors of the Holocaust. In the piece he concluded that Dachau's residents were "small-minded and self-pitying." The author later felt compelled to return to Dachau and further explore the subject. In The Last Survivor: In Search of Martin Zaidenstadt Ryback juxtaposes stories about Dachau's inhabitants with that of a Polish Jew who was a prisoner in the concentration camp.
The Last Survivor shows how the people of Dachau coped with the town's legacy in a variety of ways. Women often choose to give birth in Munich to avoid a birth certificate that says "Dachau." The local McDonald's restaurant was reprimanded after putting flyers on the windshields of cars parked at the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial site. The mayor goes to Israel to plant trees in a place to be called the Dachau Woods. After Zaidenstadt was liberated from the camp, he chose to live and work in Dachau. In the late 1980s, however, he began a daily vigil at the camp's crematorium. He offers tourists an account that contradicts the widely accepted explanation that the gas chamber built at Dachau was never used. Ryback questions Zaidenstadt's sanity but confirms the now-elderly man's suffering.
The sensitive issues raised in The Last Survivor drew comment from reviewers. For some, the book's shared focus on Zaidenstadt and the townspeople was problematic. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "the voices of these people are ultimately obscured by the enigmatic … Martin Zaidenstadt." A similar response, that "the townspeople portraits are distracting and reveal little that is unexpected," was offered by Howard Kaplan in the Jerusalem Report. Kaplan concluded, "When Ryback is at the heart of his material, one on one with Martin, the passages are riveting and written with a novelist's eye and elegance." Critic Steve Dowden of the Boston Globe explored the difficulty the author faced and noted, "The risk of such an approach is that Ryback may appear perversely to be pleading for sympathy not with the true victims of Nazi atrocity but with the kith and kin of the perpetrators." Reflecting his belief that Jewish life has improved in Europe, Dowden concluded that Ryback "strikes a false note in his emphasis on Zaidenstadt's fate."
In a Booklist review, George Cohen called the work "a remarkable book, graceful in its simplicity and powerful in its poignancy." According to New York Times Book Review writer Thane Rosenbaum, the book is "a surreal artifact" and "a morality play about a town with enormous moral deficits." Rosenbaum also remarked that The Last Survivor is "elegantly written without ever neglecting the magnitude of horror that underlies every gesture, breath, and nuance in Dachau."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1999, George Cohen, review of The Last Survivor: In Search of Martin Zaidenstadt, p. 2019.
Boston Globe, August 22, 1999, Steve Dowden, "An 'Ancient Mariner' of Dachau," review of The Last Survivor, p. C2.
Jerusalem Report, April 10, 2000, Howard Kaplan, "The Man by the Door," review of The Last Survivor, p. 46.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Frederic Krome, review of The Last Survivor, p. 112.
New Statesman, April 13, 1990, Marek Kohn, "Red and White," review of Rock around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, p. 38; March 20, 2000, Harry Mount, "Ghost Town," review of The Last Survivor, p. 58.
New York Times Book Review, September 5, 1999, Thane Rosenbaum, "A Witness at Dachau," review of The Last Survivor, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, June 21, 1999, review of The Last Survivor, p. 43.