Hans Keilson began writing Der Tod des Widersachers (English version: The Death of the Adversary) in 1942, while active in the Dutch anti-Nazi resistance. Keilson had fled Germany already in 1936 since as a Jew he was forbidden to practice medicine. The manuscript for Der Tod des Widersachers was buried in Amsterdam as the deportation of Jews accelerated, and was not published until 1957. The book received little notice in Germany; an English translation appeared in 1962 and did briefly receive some attention. Keilson remained popular in the Netherlands - both for his poetry and his psychoanalytic work with children, but faded into obscurity elsewhere. Now, suddenly, we are seeing a Hans Keilson rennaissance thanks to the New York Times, which has declared Keilson to be one of the great literary geniuses of the 20th century.
Der Tod des Widersachers is an extended meditation on the etiology of hate and the symbiotic relationship between the persercutor and the persecuted. The book is about Hitler and Holocaust, but neither Hitler nor the Jews are ever mentioned by name. Hitler is "der Widersacher" or "der Feind" (Enemy) or simply "B.". The anonymous narrator first learns about his adversary as a 10 year-old boy when he overhears his parents talking about him in the kitchen.
"Wenn B. je an die Macht kommt, dann gnade uns Gott! Dann werden wir noch etwas erleben."
Meine Mutter erwiderte ruhiger:"Wer weiss, vielleicht kommt es auch anders. Ein so grosser Herr ist er doch noch nicht."
("If B. ever takes over then God help us!. Then we're done for." My mother replied calmly: "Who knows, mayber it will never come. He's not such a big shot yet.")
Soon the boy begins to feel the presence of the adversary in his own life as his classmates begin to shun him or try to injure him in soccer. He breaks up with his best friend after his friend expresses his admiration for B. Even a normal relationship with a girl becomes impossible when it turns out her brother is a thuggish follower of the adversary. The narrator is haunted by the adversary, who becomes the focal point of his life - or rather his hatred of the adversary gives mearning to his own life.