Tag Archives: The Holocaust

Ordinary Jews


Ordinary Jews –
Choice and Survival during the Holocaust
By Evgeny Finkel
Princeton University Press – £24.95

Killings and seizures for forced labour began in mid-August 1941. Initially the Germans, assisted by Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliary troops and by the Belorussian police, seized males, who were then taken to the central square of the ghetto, beaten, and driven away to an unknown destination. None of them returned home. According to some sources, starting in late August women also were captured. About 5,000 people were caught and later executed during the August round-ups. The first large-scale massacre took place on November 7, 1941, the anniversary of the October Revolution. Ghetto inhabitants knew that something was brewing because skilled craftsmen, professionals and members of the Judenrat were moved to the ”Russian” part of the city on the evening of November 6th. Yet the scale of the killing shocked everyone. Local Jews, building on their historical experience, called it a ”pogrom.” The general assumption was that people would simply be thrown out of their apartments and probably beaten – no one imagined large-scale shootings in which thousands (10,000-12,000 is the estimated number) would perish.

         (‘Setting the Stage’)

Many made desperate attempts to escape when it was perceived as the last chance to survive, sometimes jumping off the trains carrying them to death camps. The vast majority perished, either hit by the moving trains, shot by German guards, betrayed, or killed by local Poles. In March of 1943, George Turlo, a non-Jew, took a train from Bialystok to Warsaw. ”During the first portion [of the journey],” he recalled, ”the train was stopping very often on the rail tracks, and a putrefied smell, stench, was coming from the outside. And I saw the German soldiers pouring the gasoline on some bodies along the track. And somebody told me this was the latest convoy from [the] Bialystok ghetto to…Treblinka. Only a few were lucky enough to survive the jump. Those who did had to navigate a hostile and unfamiliar terrain – physical, but more importantly also human and social. Gedaliyah Wender was ten years old when his father threw him and his sister out of a train bound to Treblinka; his mother jumped as well. His mother and sister were badly wounded in the jump, and it was clear they would not survive. In the last moments of her life the mother had to prepare her son for independent survival – she taught him how to say ”bread” and other essential words in Polish, because Gedaliyah had no knowledge of the language whatsoever.


To say this is a mind-bogglingly tough read, would be something of an understatement.

To this day, I still find it nigh impossible to comprehend just how Europe’s Jewish population coped with what surely has to be one of the darkest (if not the darkest) periods in human history. As Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker (April 6, 2015): ”[…] the Nazi concentration camp stands as the ultimate system of evil. The very names of of the camps – Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz – have the sound of malevolent incantation […] full of the kind of details that ordinarily appear only in Dantesque visions.”

Indeed, said visions aren’t worth thinking about.
They’re far too disturbing to come to (remote) terms with, even though Ordinary Jews – Choice and Survival during the Holocaust doesn’t so much focus on the Konzentrationlager (concentration camp) itself, but rather, that despicable penultimate place, the ghetto.

In focusing on the three Jewish ghettos of Minsk, Krakow and Bialystok, Evgeny Finkel brings to light the degree to which the Jewish response to Nazi genocide differed, depending on their experiences with pre-war polices that either ”promoted or discouraged their integration into non-Jewish society.” And like many books written on the subject, it’s the whole matter of fact mode of writing that in a way, is the most disturbing and distressing.

That’s not to say Finkel doesn’t care about his subject. Nothing could be further from the undeniable truth. He, along with his peers, clearly care very much.

It’s the sheer density of relentless suffering and the awful extent to which human nature can become so bestial and so ghastly (so quickly). Again, it doesn’t bear worth thinking about; which in turn, reiterates the issue as to why we choose to read about such horror(s) to begin with. If, as Kirsch writes: ”It is to merely to revel in the grotesque, then learning about this evil is itself a species of evil, a further exploitation of the dead.”

Like the eight chapters of this most sensitive of investigations, the actual execution of the reading itself is a tough call; yet Ordinary Jews is an ultimately important contribution toward the many writings on the subject of the Holocaust.

It’s complexity and deftness lies in Finkel’s telling, which, if truth be told, resonates with all the clarity of subdued beauty.

David Marx


Before Auschwitz


Before Auschwitz –
Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps
By Kim Wunschmann
Harvard University Press – £33.95

So tomorrow, January 20th, we have President (elect) Donald Trump to look forward to.

He, whose parents were members of America’s Klu Klux Klan organisation, will enter what has to be the most powerful office in the world. An ever increasing, wayward world might I add, in which tyrants and terrorists, deprivation and division, continue to make headlines; while those who kneel at the alter of hedge-fund hypocrisy, continue to succeed in keeping it that way.

It’s as if the populace of the so-called intelligent species, has learnt absolutely nothing.

Nic that is, other than:
a) wholeheartedly know how to turn away when someone else is in need (as in the cold, blooded murder of the MP, Jo Cox – who, as she lay on the ground being to stabbed to death, hordes of people did absolutely nothing because they far were too busy filming her murder on their mobile phones)
b) wholeheartedly embrace the dictum: what’s in it for me?

Just two exceedingly valid reasons why people need to at least be made aware of January 27th, Holocaust Memorial Day, to comprehend an iota of where blatant ignorance can lead. In a word, Trump., in anther word., ISIS., in another (chilling yet infamous) word, Auschwitz.

The world would indeed be wise to take note of Before Auschwitz – Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps, which pioneers the formulaic and prerequisite ideological stance of nationally condoned suffering, barbarity and murder.

The book’s six chapters, Introduction and Conclusion, compellingly unearths the little-known origins of the concentration camp system in the years leading up to the Second World War, and reveals the instrumental role of these extralegal detention centres in the development of Nazi policies towards Jews (and its eventual plans to create a racially pure Third Reich): ”First of all, a historical study of the imprisonment of Jews before 1939 demands an understanding of the period in its own right. The concentration camps of the pre-war era were different from the wartime camps. They had different forms and different functions. Simply to place them into a seemingly linear development of Nazi anti-Jewish policy […] would miss the particularity of the pre-war period. The development that ultimately culminated in genocide on an unprecedented scale was neither preordained nor the direct result of a single man’s long-standing fantasies. Karl Schleunes’s concept of ”the twisted road to Auschwitz” is more apposite, helping us to grasp a process of gradual development in response to outside influences and internal power rivalries, a process that, at each stage, might have pointed to a different destination.”

A different destination indeed, which, from the relative comfort of hindsight, is all too easy say, come to terms with, and ultimately assimilate. But these 235 pages (not including Appendix: SS Ranks and U.S. Army Equivalents, Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements and Index) really ought to shunt hindsight unto the Rose Garden of The White House – for all the world’s media to witness on a regular basis.

If not the Oval Office itself, although, knowing Trump, he’d probably deny the fact that The Holocaust ever took place.

In investigating more than a dozen camps, from Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen to less familiar sites, authoress Kim Wunschmann uncovers a process of terror designed to identify and isolate German Jews, primarily from 1933 to 1939. During this period, shocking accounts of camp life filtered through to the German population, sending the preposterous message that Jews were different from true Germans: they were portrayed as dangerous to associate with and fair game for barbaric acts of intimidation and violence.

The latter of which is rather like Brexit’s reaction to non-Englanders, only on a far bigger, far more criminal level. But hey, it’s still early days.
And tomorrow we have Trump, to look forward to.

As Robert Gellately, author of Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War has written, Before Auschwitz is ”an impressive, well-written study of a little-known chapter in the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Wunschmann has carried out prodigious archival research, unearthing all kinds of interesting and troubling material, particularly on the fate of Jewish citizens who were sent to the camps without trial and held without rights in what the police euphemistically called ‘protective custody.’ Her book will certainly find a wide readership.”

Here’s hoping it will, because it’s outwardly brave, memorably brazen and overtly bodacious.

David Marx

The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy


The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy
Fossoli dei Carpi, 1942-1952
By Alexis Herr
Palgrave Macmillan – £63.00

Primo Levi begins his short story ”Small Causes” by sharing a conversation he had with a group of friends on the influence that a seemingly innocuous occurrence can have on history. He writes, ”Small causes can have a determining effect in individual histories, just as moving the pointer of a railroad switch by a few inches can shunt a train with one thousand passengers aboard to Madrid instead of Hamburg.” Levi contends that looking back on the definitive past is easy to theorize what might have been if things had been different.

So begins the first chapter ‘In the Marketplace: Fascist Socialization and Consent in Carpi,’ a chapter, which, as Alexis Herr writes: ” traces how the violent ascent of Fascism in Carpi, and the 20 years under Mussolini that followed it, created the maccina di consenso (the machine of consent). We will consider the ways in which violence in the years leading up to the Fascists’ march on Rome in 1922 informed Carpigiani (Carpi residents) reception to Mussolini’s newly minted regime and why Pietro Badoglio’s overthrow of Mussolini in July 1943 failed to inspire a revolt against Fascist structures in Carpi.”

Once again, The National Holocaust Memorial Day is almost upon us (January 27th) and in its lead up, I will be reviewing an array of material that is both pertinent and revisionary.

Starting with The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy, one can only surmise that the current Italian likes of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five-Star Movement) and Militia Christi (an extreme-right Catholic fundamentalist party) have conveniently refused to recognise history. Or at least, the relatively recent history of their own country, which, as Herr touches on in this book’s Introduction, has often been complicit within the cloying design of totally unnecessary death(s): ”Sixty-seven years have passed since Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi published his memoir Se questo e un uomo (If this is Man, released in the United States under the title Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity). Untarnished by the passage of time, Levi’s testimony remains a touchstone of Holocaust study. His narrative extends beyond descriptions of physical suffering of camp life and offers a philosophical inquiry into humanity and inhumanity in Auschwitz. For Levi, the camp was a ”social experiment” that released ”the human animal in the struggle for life.” In the fight for one’s survival, common-place categories of opposites such as ”the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the unlucky and the fortunate,” became far more complex.

In two distinct parts: ‘The War Years’ and ‘After the War,’ these 144 pages – excluding Acknowledgements, a List of Illustrations, Abbreviations and Foreign Words (German and Italian), Archive Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography and Index – consist of six chapters that shed new light on almost every aspect of what took place at Fossoli dei Carpi during 1942-1952.
Much of which unfortunately, makes for disturbing reading.
Especially from that of a purely Italian perspective – let alone German: ”The victim myth, which positions all Italians in Italy as victims of German oppression, simplifies at best, or elides Italian antisemitism and gentile contributions to the arrest, incarceration, and deportation of Resistance fighters and Jews. The acquiescence of regional officials, municipal authorities, and Carpi businesses to Nazi and RSI demands to arrest and deport Jews supported and facilitated the Judeocide. While some scholars and politicians have argued that only Nazi and RSI officials perpetrated the Judeocide, the history of Fossoli suggests another conclusion. Every Italian who took part in, profited from, or enabled Fossoli’s operation to continue – with the exception of Jewish victims and the Resistance – played some part in the murderous function of the camp. Indeed, the history of genocide requires closer scrutiny of perpetrators and their enablers: the silently complicit.”

For this alone, Herr needs to be roundly commended.

As John Foot, Professor of Modern Italian History at the University of Bristol is himself quoted as saying: ”This book is clearly written and argued, and impressively rooted in theoretical and methodological reflections as well as being aware of the key historiographical context both in Italian and English.”

The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy is indeed, a most reflective read, which in and of itself, warrants all the literary praise it can muster, as well as all the recognition it can get on the 27th.

There again, Alexis Herr is Lecturer in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Department at Keene State College, USA., so it’s not surprising he has herein written a book that is a clear, concise and inspired invitation for the reader to delve further and generally find out more on The Holocaust.

David Marx

The Somme & Verdun


The Somme & Verdun – 1916 Remembered
By Julian Thompson
Andre Deutsch – £40.00

Nowadays, the Battle of the Somme is synonymous in Britain with disaster and the futility of war. This is because the huge casualties suffered by the British army appalled the British public, whose misreading of history persuaded them that Britain’s proper role in war was making a major contribution at sea, and that continental European allies should shoulder the larger part of the burden of engaging the enemy on land – and consequently suffer most of the losses.

From a political perspective, if 2016 will be remembered for anything, it will surely have to be the degree to which so much of the western, so-called, intelligent world, got it so horribly wrong.

A time when much of the British populace decided to turn the clock back to the dark ages. A time of us verses them. A place where rife, acute and open xenophobia appears to be actively promoted – if not applauded. While at the same time in Amerikkka, much of its populace voted for an arrogant, twisted, misogynist misfit, to embrace the most powerful office in the world – that of the White House this coming January.

A prospect which in and of itself, really, really, doesn’t bear worth thinking about.

Then of course, we have fully grown men, purposefully driving articulated lorries into crowds of innocent men, women and children – for the sake of some perverse, impossible notion of redemptive religiosity.

And lest we forget Aleppo.

The list goes on and unfortunately on; on to such a harrowing, nebulous degree, that one cannot help but wonder if mankind has actually learnt anything. Wasn’t two World Wars, The Holocaust, Vietnam, Northern Ireland and an infinite number of other, puerile killing sprees enough, from which to devise that killing one another – ultimately gets us no-where?

Obviously not.

This why I’ve chosen to conclude this terrible year with a review of Julian Thompson’s The Somme & Verdun – 1916 Remembered.

Had the men – who so willingly/gallantly/unknowingly, and in hindsight, stupidly, sacrificed themselves – known what the world was going to emerge into a hundred years hence forth; with for example, the terrible, terrible, vile likes of Nigel Farrage, vehemently promoting what they actually died for, they may well have questioned hurtling themselves unto the barbed-razer-wire, of nigh certain death.

Containing rare removable documents, memorabilia, and an audio CD of veterans first-hand accounts, this most pensive assimilation of words, postcards home, diagrams and maps, is enough to stop one in ones’ own tracks. As in order to take some sort of macabre stock of what actually transpired a hundred years ago: ”Their expressions seemed frozen by a vision of terror; their gait and their postures betrayed a total dejection; they sagged beneath the weight of horrifying memories” (General Petain, remembering the men he had commanded at Verdun).

An overall assessment of an equally terrible year, this collection does a lot to drive home the folly and the futility of intrinsically hollow, disagreement; whereby death panders to yet more death, panders to yet more death, panders to yet further death.

An eye for some sort of eye.

The Somme & Verdun – 1916 Remembered is a most humbling (literary) experience; another reminder of what should have been, what could have been: all those beautiful lives, wiped out.

And for what? King (Queen) and Country? Bollocks..

Merry Christmas.

David Marx

Representing Auschwitz


Representing Auschwitz
At the Margins of Testimony
Edited by Nicholas Chare and Dominic Williams
Palgrave Macmillan – £58.00

Purgatory is represented by the Soviet Union’s labour camps, where neglect is combined with chaotic forced labour. Hell in the most literal sense was embodied by those types of camp perfected by the Nazis, in which the whole of life was thoroughly and systematically organized with a view to the greatest possible torment.

(Nikolaus Wachsmann, The Nazi Concentration Camps in International Context: Comparisons and Connections, Palgrave Macmillan).

Having recently watched the outstanding Hungarian epic, Son Of Saul (directed by Laszlo Nemes), which has since been nominated for countless awards – including Best Foreign Language Film 2016 – I was in a position, if only for a mini-micro second, to read this book with an iota of up to date sound and vision. Both aspects of which – for all their colourful, grainy, shouting-celluloid-hell of a living/breathing, Hieronymous Boschesque depiction of the end of the world – gave an inkling of understanding as to what it must have been like.

To have experienced the utterly incomprehensible, cruel degradation of a Nazi concentration camp.

And there is no better example of said incomprehension than Auschwitz. A two word syllable, whose international trajectory, continues to represent everything that was, and still is wrong with humanity. A diabolical syntheses of which is most coherently as well as magnificently touched upon throughout this outstanding book.

To be sure, Representing Auschwitz – At the Margins of Testimony addresses the aforesaid incomprehension of the Nazi regime in the Introduction, where the two editors Nicholas Chare and Dominic Williams immediately write: ”The boundary necessary for comprehension, or claiming, of the Holocaust experience, the scission between within and without, can only be instituted belatedly. It is necessary to establish a gap between within and without in the psyche of the individual survivor in order to mend the ‘the historical gap which the event created in the collective witnessing.”’

Upon reading the above, I am inclined to ask if such a mode of considered behaviour is even possible?

How can we, almost seventy-five years after the very implementation of the Final Solution, penetrate the ‘psyche of the individual survivor?’ Other than trying to come to some sort of terms with Holocaust literature and such brave, uncompromising film-making as Son Of Saul, all we can (fortunately) hope for, at best, is an inkling of empathy; which explains why these ten superlative essays are so very, very important.

As Professor Robert Eaglestone of the Royal Holloway, University of London states: ”This outstanding book has essays from not only the leading academics in the field (including perhaps the most important philosopher of history of our time, Hayden White) but also from leading writers in this area (Anne Karpf, Eva Hoffman). Each essay is a fantastic resource, tightly argued, full of revelation and information. More, the book is a model of interdisciplinary work, combining history, literary studies, film, gender theory, art and philosophy. It is also a timely and vital intervention in the development of Holocaust Studies.”

Indeed, all the essays in this book are as vital as each other.

Be it Dan Stone’s ‘The Harmony of Barbarism: Locating the Scrolls of Auschwitz in Holocaust Historiography,’ Sue Vice’s ‘Representing the Einsatzgruppen: The Outtakes of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, Griselda Pollock’s ‘Art as Transport-Station of Trauma? Haunting Objects in the Works of Bracha Ettinger, Sarah Kofman and Chantal Akerman’ or Dominic Williams’ ‘The Dead Are My Teachers’: The Scrolls of Auschwitz in Jerome Rothenberg’s Khurbn.

The latter of which, perhaps in relation to having watched Nemes’ powerful depiction of the Sonderkommando, resonates all the more poignantly. Under the sub-heading ‘The Scrolls of Auschwitz, Williams’ quotes from a three-page narrative, written by Leib Langfuss, which accounts for part of Jerome Rothenberg’s Khurbn. It essentially ”tells the story of the last hours of 3,000 women dumped in the grounds of Crematorium 2 after being imprisoned and starved for a week […]. The words Rothenberg quotes are part of one girl’s reaction to a member of the Sonderkommando bursting into tears.

They examined our faces looking for an expression of sympathy. One stood in a corner and looked deep into the depths of these poor helpless souls. He could no longer control himself and burst out crying. A young girl then said ‘Ah! I have been privileged to see before I die an expression of sorrow, a tear of sympathy at our sad fate, in this camp of murderers, in which so many are tortured, beaten and killed, in which people see so many murders and interminable horrors, in the camp where our senses become dull and petrified at the sight of the worst horrors, where every human emotion dies to the extent that you can see your brother or sister fall and not even sigh. Yes, here, can there be a man who will feel our disaster who will weep for our fate? Oh! What a wonderful vision, how unnatural! The tear of a live Jew will go with me to my death, the sight of a sensitive man. There is still someone who will mourn us, [and I] had thought that we could leave this world like miserable orphans. I find a bit of comfort in this young man; among people who are all murderers and criminals, I have found before my death a man with feelings.”’

That a young girl’s fate has evolved into taking such (pathetic) comfort, does, in and of itself, depict a time in history where shame is too kind a word. Where redemption doesn’t even come into play. That any warmth, let alone description of feeling within the actual writing has clearly been nigh annihilated, speaks volumes. Again, more than substantiates why Representing Auschwitz – At the Margins of Testimony is such an unquestionably valuable book.

With the recent cease-fire in Aleppo having once again, come to absolutely nothing, perhaps publications such as this are all that we fundamentally have left – to remind us of our own unspeakable, yet nevertheless repeatable, folly.

David Marx

Ordinary Workers, Vichy and The Holocaust


Ordinary Workers, Vichy and The Holocaust –
French Railwaymen and the Second World War
By Ludivine Broch
Cambridge University Press – £64.99/$99.99

As Ludivine Broch writes in the Introduction of this idiosyncratically informative and most readable of books on a subject that still remains as equally taboo as it does tempestuous: ”This book tells the story of the cheminots during the German Occupation of France between 1940 and 1944 in eight chapters and one epilogue. It takes an overarching chronological approach, starting with a history of the cheminots pre-1939 and ending with an epilogue which explores the rise (and fall) of cheminot memory. The seven chapters in between are slightly more thematic, exploring topics of accommodation, resistance and deportation as well as everyday life, cheminot professionalism and class struggle.”

Indeed, the range of exploration within the chapters themselves, shed just as much light on Ordinary Workers, Vichy and The Holocaust – French Railwaymen and the Second World War as that of the actual occupation itself. And it does so in such a way that is analytical, gritty and respectfully real; for all to bear considered judgement to, whilst simultaneously anchored within the inexorable argument of who was a resister, and who was a collaborator.

For instance, in the book’s final chapter, ‘Liberation,’ Broch openly states: ”Most of those who underwent investigation were generally released after having given explanations for their dubious behaviour. What is striking is that any excuse, from a marriage breakdown to a prolonged illness, was accepted to justify cheminot collaboration. Considering that Oullins, near Lyon, was a communist and Resistance stronghold, such leniency is surprising. However, it is indicative of cheminots’ collective identity and their immediate concern with rebuilding the railway after a period of sabotages and bombings than with the politics of revenge.”

Some might view this somewhat differently, especially given the number of reprisals that were rampant throughout France, Paris especially, immediately after the country’s liberation: ”Other individuals, however, suffered far greater consequences for their more controversial actions under Vichy. Indeed, many people on France considered that true victory could only be obtained by purging France of its ‘corrupt’ individuals: ‘No Rations without Purges. No Victory without Purges.”’

There again, having read this book, it could be said that the cheminots were an entity unto themselves; which might not be surprising in the least given the relative underhandedness with which some might view the French government as having always pursued (the politically subliminal exploitation) of its railway workers.

Such is brazenly brought to bear in the book’s initial chapter, ‘Cheminots,’ where Broch openly admits: ”[…] when war broke out in 1870 […] the trains were vital for both the front line and the home front, and no one could be spared. Thus a law enforced in 1870 allowed all railwaymen to request exemption from military service, which Ministers unofficially encouraged the Companies to take advantage of. This new link to the nation, and this added patriotic responsibility, put the railway workers in an interesting position: they were now at the peak of their bargaining power. Indeed, the 1870-1 war was the first ‘modern’ war where all men and material were moved by rail. The role of railway workers had thus become paramount to military service.”

As a lecturer in History at the University of Westminster and co-editor of France in an Era of Global Wars, 1914-1945: Occupation, Politics, Empire and Entanglements, it ought hardly come as a surprise that Ludivine Broch has herein compiled 241 pages (excluding Abbreviations, Maps, Glossary of railway professions, Bibliography and Index) that are as a thorough an investigation on the subject of Ordinary Workers, Vichy and The Holocaust – French Railwaymen and the Second World War as we are currently likely to get.

David Marx

But You Did Not Come Back

come back

But You Did Not Come Back
By Marceline Loridan-Ivens
Faber & Faber – £12.99

”Surviving makes other people’s tears unbearable. You might drown in them.”

But You Did Not Come Back is a spell-bindingly chilling, yet nevertheless utterly beautiful book which absolutely needs to be read. It’s admittedly harrowing in parts, but this is nothing other than a pitiful indictment, if not regal reflection upon the human race of which we all (at times, rather unfortunately) find ourselves a part.

These one hundred pages – which resolutely refuse any form of pathos let alone exposition – touch on the sort of love that is all resounding.

All transcending.
All things one actually wants to believe exists amid the (only occasional) human trait of magnanimous giving and complete unselfishness: ”Far from life, the life that was asking me to live again, a life full of silences, missing people, deception. The life where you didn’t exist.”

In brief, this book is the author’s letter to the father she never know as an adult; although the impact of his influence over her entire adult life, appears seemingly immeasurable.

In every way. In every accountable manner possible.

In brief, the book conveys how, at the age if fifteen in 1944, Marceline Loridan-Ivens was arrested in occupied France, along with her father. They were both sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. When they arrived, they were forcibly separated. Though he managed to smuggle a last note to her via an electrician, she never spoke to him again – the heartbreaking trajectory of which accounts for this book’s poise, power and poignancy: ”When we passed by, some of the women would come closer to the electrified fence and whisper questions to us; they didn’t have their children anymore, but still wanted to hope. We’d ask them if they had a number. No, they’d reply. Then we’d raise our arms to the heavens as a sign of despair. Our tattooed number was our opportunity, our victory, and our shame. I’d helped build the second railway line that led directly to the gas chambers where their children had just been thrown. Now I was going to sort through their clothes.”

Apart from the memory of her father and that of the above, the book is a consistent reminder of just how powerful the human mind is. Countless examples of which are both tender and unbelievable: ”My memory had to shatter, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go on living […]., I’ve always thought it was my fault if they sent her to the gas chamber. Francoise and her beautiful eyes haunted me for a long time, like a reprimand, a sister in misfortune.”

Of this utterly engrossing, unputdownable book, Le Magazine Litteraire wrote: In literature, every so often, there comes a miracle, a book, a text, an author, a writing style, a way of recounting something […] saying things about life and death” – with which it’s nigh impossible to disagree.

A very strong contender for my book of the year.

David Marx