“I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.”
― Lucille Ball

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Four horrifying biographies of holocaust victims

In front of me are four books that I recently read.
Four biographies that all have the holocaust, during World War II (WWII), as central theme, but from different perspectives and in different periods.

I read the Dutch translations/originals, as I bought them when I was in the Netherlands early this year.

The titles are listed below (in the order I read them) and I have indicated to which period(s) they apply (see below):
  1. Period 1 & 2: "Alles ging aan flarden; Het oorlogsdagboek van Klaartje de Zwarte-Walvisch"; no English translation available, but this would be a fair translation: "WWII diary of Klaartje de Zwarte - Walvisch"; about Dutch Klaartje de Zwarte; author: Arianne Zwiers, 2009, see my earlier blog post of this book.
  2. Period 2 & 3: "De man die naar Auschwitz wilde";original title: "The man who broke into Auschwitz"; about British POW Denis Avey; author: Rob Broomby, 2012
  3. Period 1 & 2 & 3: "Overlever"; English original title: "Survivor"; about Polish Sam Pivnick; co-author: M.J. Trow, 2012
  4. Period 1 & 2 & 3: "Anne Frank 1929-1945"; the final biography; about Dutch Anne Frank; author: Carol Ann Lee, 2009
I recognize the following three periods of the holocaust and have indicated in the book list above, which period(s) they cover:

1. Preparation
  • increasing non-tolerance of certain groups in society, like the Jews, Gypsies, etc.
  • changing laws, to create a kind of apartheid, especially for the Jews 
  • razzia's and pogroms
2. Execution
  • selecting people for extermination and working camps
  • transportation to intermediate, working and extermination camps
  • extinction by gas or slavery work and cremation or mass graves
3. Collapse of the system

  • closing and/or leaving the camps in the east, later also in the west, leaving behind dying prisoners
  • moving prisoners, mostly by foot (Death marches), from east to west when the Russian army was defeating the Germans in the east
  • destroying evidence of the holocaust, and ...
  • camp staff feigning that they were okay at the end

Period 1 started in Germany already around 1933, in Poland and Austria as of 1939 and the rest of occupied Europe as of 1940/1941.
As the holocaust is such a big human and historical tragedy, I believe it's hard to understand and to feel how it was to suffer and being humiliated as if they were animals, if you didn't experienced it.
Now, after reading these four books, I believe I am starting to begin to understand what happened, but still it's hard to understand how it was possible.

It seems that many people that time knew what was happening, even the Allies knew it because they received reports of escaped prisoners of concentration camps, including from Auschwitz. The truth was so horrible that people didn't believe what they heard, so it was psychologically denied.

That is probably the reason that survivors (like in books 2 and 3 above) of the holocaust couldn't speak about it to their friends and family, it was a matter of self-protection, as no one would believe it and/or could understand it. So why to try to explain it to others, apart from the emotional problems when digging into memories that you would prefer to forget.

Only now, after 60+ years, you see that some of the survivors are ready to speak or write and revitalize their memories. I am happy they did so people like me, who didn't actually experienced the WWII, but read about the war and the holocaust, can better understand it.

Surveys done recently discovered that 60% of the persons under 35 years of age, in Great Britain, never heard about Auschwitz. Therefore I am grateful that my children, also in their 30th,  are aware of it and even have or soon will visit(ed) one of the concentration camps.
It helped me at least to better understand the books I read, as I visited one of the concentration camps (Dachau, see my earlier post). If you have seen the big area, the fence and watch towers, the barracks and the crematoria, you better understand and can imagine things, when you are reading books and testimonies like the ones I am presenting here.

Below I copied brief summaries of the four books I referred to in this post and it is up to the readers of my post to do the same I did, or just believe it (or not) and continue your life.

1.  Klaartje de Zwarte

Klaartje and her husband Joseph de Zwarte got their first call for deportation on the 25th of July 1942 but they decided not to appear, they also decided not to go into hiding.
On the 22nd of March 1943, in the afternoon, she is arrested by 2 Dutch men who worked for the SD at the office of the Zentralstelle für Judische Auswanderung in Amsterdam.
First, they were taken to the Zentralstelle. A lot of Jewish people that were arrested were kept there before transportation to the Hollandsche Schouwburg. Starting in March 1943 the Nazi's were giving fee's for every Jew that was arrested. Specialized personnel from the SD, like the Colonne Henneike, arrested hundreds of Jews in the months after for fl. 7,50 (3.5 Euro) per captured Jew.

In the night of the 1st and 2nd of April, Klaartje and her husband, are taken to the concentration camp in Vught. From there Klaartje's husband is taken to Moerdijk, near Rotterdam, to work on the defensive constructions that are being built in case of an Allied invasion on the Dutch coast. Klaartje herself is put to work in the Philips factory in camp Vught.

On the 4th of July Klaartje is taken to the Westerbork camp, without her husband. After nine days, on the 13th of July, she is deported from Westerbork to Sobibor. The train arrives there on the 16th and all of the 1990 men, women and children on that train die the same day.

Klaartje has kept a diary from the 22nd of March until the 4th of July. She gave her diary to her brother-in-law Salomon de Zwarte in camp Westerbork just before she was transported to Sobibor. He managed to survive the war. In 2009 her diary was re-discovered and published under the title; "Alles ging aan flarden" or in English: "Everything went to pieces".

2. Denis Avey

THE MAN WHO BROKE INTO AUSCHWITZ is the extraordinary true story of a British soldier who marched willingly into Buna-Monowitz, the concentration camp known as Auschwitz III.

In the summer of 1944, Denis Avey was being held in a POW labor camp, E715, near Auschwitz III. He had heard of the brutality meted out to the prisoners there and he was determined to witness what he could.

He hatched a plan to swap places with a Jewish inmate and smuggled himself into his sector of the camp. He spent the night there on two occasions and experienced at first-hand the cruelty of a place where slave workers, had been sentenced to death through labor.

Astonishingly, he survived to witness the aftermath of the Death March where thousands of prisoners were murdered by the Nazi's as the Soviet Army advanced. After his own long trek right across central Europe he was repatriated to Britain.

There is a discussion in the media and on internet regarding the truth of this story. Some sources believe this was invented by his author. To be honest I cannot believe that one could invent such a story.
3. Sam Pivnik
In 1939, on his 13th birthday, the Nazis invaded Poland. Sam Pivnik survived the two ghettoes set up in his home town of Bedzin and six months working on the processing ramp at Auschwitz, where prisoners were either taken away for entry to the camp or gassing.

After this harrowing experience, he was sent to work at the brutal Furstengrube mining camp. He could have died on the 'Death March' that took him west as the Third Reich collapsed, and he managed to swim to safety when the Royal Air Force mistakenly sank the prison ship Cap Arcona in 1945.

On 14 occasions he should have been killed, yet now in his 80's, Sam tells the story of his life, a tale of survival against the most extraordinary odds.

4. Anne Frank
I couldn't find an English review of this book, so decided to translate the Dutch cover story.

Anne Frank, the life of a young girl, is the result of a stunning and very comprehensive new research that Carol Ann Lee performed in the past decennial.
This new biography of Anne Frank contains letters and documents, which were not previously published, including recently discovered letters of Otto Frank, her father, about the desperate attempts to flee from Amsterdam in 1941 to the USA or Cuba.
In addition Lee talked to survivors who have met or knew Anne Frank in the camps were she stayed with her sister Margot.
New photo material and new information about the life of the Frank family before the war, that was never published before, the life in hiding and in the camps, the story of Anne's first true love Peter Schiff and the betrayal.

Personal note:
You should read this book before you read the diary of Anne Frank, or if you read it already, re-read it after reading this biography.
While reading these books, I found references to other stories and books that I certainly will read soon. These are:

  1. The biography of Otto Frank, also from Carol Ann Lee, about his years in Auschwitz and his life before and after the war, including his efforts to publish his daughter's diary and the theory about who betrayed them while in hiding.
  2. About the death marches at the end of the war, especially the book from Gerhard Hoch titled: "Von Auschwitz nach Holstein" or in English: "From Auschwitz (SE Poland) to Holstein (NW Germany)".
Any other suggestions for reading are welcome.


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