Monday, February 27, 2012

Auschwitz by Miklos Nyiszli

iconiconAuschwitz came to my attention mostly because it was a sale ebook at BN.com, but it intrigued me because of the description.  It's a memoir by a Jewish doctor who was pressed into service at Auschwitz, and lived to write about it afterward, helping to expose many of the terrible things that went on there.  It's not very long, but it is well written and compelling, and it isn't as hard or as horrifying to read as I had feared.

The introduction to the memoir is pretty harsh, condemning the author for his professional vanity and for allowing himself to be forced into helping the Nazis.  Personally, though, I found I couldn't blame the man.  He wasn't forced to kill anyone, only to perform autopsies on people the Nazis had killed, mostly in their quest to prove their theories of the degeneration of the Jewish people.  He also had to provide medical care for the Nazis themselves, but a good part of his duties were also providing medical care for the prisoners, so you can see why he might be willing to help the Nazis if it put him into a position to also help his own people.

But the biggest reason why I thought his actions were excusable was because it gave him the opportunity to save his wife and daughter of Auschwitz.  He was favored by the Nazi's head doctor at Auschwitz, which enabled him to get special privileges, and he was able to get his wife and daughter onto a work detail that took them away from the camp.  And of course, later in the memoir, it turned out that the head doctor's favoritism saved his life more than once, and enabled him to be reunited with his family.  With all of that in mind, I didn't find him nearly as much to blame as the author of the introduction evidently did.

In any case, it's an interesting if sometimes horrifying memoir.  I'm glad that, so many years after its initial publication, this book is still so popular — it seems like it ought to be widely read, so that we never forget the horrific things that were done to other human beings at Auschwitz.

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