Book by Siedlecki, Janusz Nel
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The first translation of a confusing, erratic memoir of life in Auschwitz, collaboratively written by three Polish survivors.The authors offer a rarely seen view of life in Auschwitz. As political prisoners (rather than Jews), all three were able to manipulate the deadly bureaucracy in their favor. The first third of the book depicts their rise from laborers on the cusp of extermination to well-fed service providers within the camp. We are taught the difference between good and bad work units (kommandos), we witness the horrors of disease and medical treatment in the camps, and we are given a glimpse of the starvation-crazed nihilism that governed the existence of the prisoners. Arresting stuff, narrated with neither poetry nor insight, but effective enough. The three narrators, however, become something of a triple-headed beast for the reader. Only rarely (and even then only accidentally) is it clear which of the three is narrating. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that different voices are plainly at work, and these fluctuations become more noticeable as Siedlecki et al. find themselves in the somewhat safe positions of hospital orderly, nurse in training, and "Kanada" corps member (the group that determined whether new arrivals would be sent to the gas chambers or made to work). Without starvation, regular beatings, and the proximity of death, life in Auschwitz becomes banal-which is, in many ways, the most horrifying aspect of the story. As the smoke of burnt bodies clouds the air above, the authors were having sex with gypsy women, conducting petty arguments with SS officers, and conniving to increase their take of booty from the doomed prisoners. In a letter to a loved one, the days are even described as "delightful." Perhaps originally intended to document horror, the past 54 years have rendered Siedlecki et al. strange ghosts of an uncommon Auschwitz.An odd drop in the unfillable bucket of Holocaust memoirs. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal :
The books under review represent both the earliest and most recent of Holocaust memoirs. We Were in Auschwitz was written by a trio of former inmates in 1945, the most famous of whom was Tadusz Borowski, author of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. The book gives an insightful depiction of camp life, in particular the use and meaning of such slang terms as "Canada" (which refers to "prosperity," or the looted wealth stored at Auschwitz). The brutality of daily life and the guilt of survival come through clearly. Published in Poland in 1946 and translated in its entirety for the first time, this book is a welcome addition to Holocaust literature. Conversely, Samson's memoir appears to have been written only recently. The author, her mother, and two siblings survived in hiding for three years with the help of a Christian family. (Samson now lives in Baltimore.) Her story gives important insight into the nature of Polish collaboration with the Nazis. Although her story is well written and deserves to be told, the subtitle, "A Child's View of the Holocaust," is inaccurate. Since the book is apparently not based on a diary or notes written at the time, it is really not a child's view but rather a recollection of her experiences. Although it might seem a trivial point, it is important to realize that little Holocaust literature actually speaks to us with a child's voice. Both books are recommended for public and academic libraries.DFrederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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