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Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account Kindle Edition
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When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944, they sent virtually the entire Jewish population to Auschwitz. A Jew and a medical doctor, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli was spared from death for a grimmer fate: to perform “scientific research” on his fellow inmates under the supervision of the infamous “Angel of Death”: Dr. Josef Mengele. Nyiszli was named Mengele’s personal research pathologist. Miraculously, he survived to give this terrifying and sobering account, which is accompanied by a foreword by Bruno Bettelheim.
“This is the best brief account of the Auschwitz experience available.” —The New York Review of Books
About the Author
Richard Seaver was a publisher, editor, and translator. He passed away in 2009.
Bruno Bettelheim was a child psychologist and writer of international renown. He passed away in 1990. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B01DRXI1B6
- Publisher : Arcade Publishing (April 1, 2011)
- Publication date : April 1, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 2006 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 220 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #37,307 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on January 22, 2017
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One also wonders why millions of Jews were so complacent - sitting at home, waiting for their executioners to come (for some, commitment to retaining their earthly possessions had taken possession of them - in fact, discriminatory laws against the Jews were meant to force them to leave Germany and their possessions, and the Holocaust occurred only when most refused to do so), while others joined resistance movements, provided themselves with forged papers, etc. And then there was Dr. Mengele - rigorously observing all aseptic principles during childbirth, then callously sending mother and infant to the crematorium a half-hour later. For some, a business-as-usual attitude (boiled-frog syndrome) can be extremely hard to overcome.
It may have been Jewish acceptance, without retaliatory fight, of steadily harsher discrimination and degradation that first gave the SS the idea that they would eventually get to the point where they would walk to the gas chambers on their own. Most Jews in Poland who did not believe in business-as-usual survived WWII - when the Germans approached, they left everything behind and fled to Russia despite distrusting the Soviet system.
The fate of Anne Frank and her family was not a necessary one, much less a heroic one - it was senseless. Anne could have had a good chance to survive as did many Jewish children in Holland. But for that she would have had to be separated from her parents and lived with a Dutch family as their own child. The hardest way to go underground was to do it as a family. The Franks, with their excellent connections among gentile Dutch families should have had an easy time hiding out singly, each with a different family. But instead, the main principle of their planning was to continue as much as possible with the kind of family life they were accustomed to. The author also believes that Franks could have provided themselves with a gun or two had they wished, and killed at least one or two of the SS men who came for them. Extended to every Jew arrested, this would have noticeably hindered the functioning of the police state. Anne Frank died because her parents couldn't get themselves to believe in Auschwitz. They were unable to recognize that much of what seemed protective (family unity) was actually self-destroying, or that they were unlikely to survive by being as passive as they were.
Walter Laqueur, in the foreword to another book, posited that because the Germans were the people of Bach, Beethoven, Kant, Goethe, and Schiller, some must have wondered how 'bad' could such a people really be? Hitler, an aberration, would doubtless soon pass. Still, we must also recognize that Auschwitz once housed 13,000 Russian POWs - presumably capable of rising up and fighting. Yet, only 92 survived, and there was no Russian uprising. There were also large groups of Gypsies and Czechs - again, no revolts.
The doctor who wrote this book similarly deluded himself. He ended up serving the SS better than some SS did - by taking pride in his professional skills, ignoring the purposes they were used for. Adhering to his short-term professional code of ethics and a similarly short-term view of general morality overrode his ability to recognize reality and allowed the doctor to also become incredibly evil himself.
The first task of every new group of Sonderkommando (Jews assigned to operate the crematoria and gas chambers) was to cremate the corpses of their predecessor group. Only the twelfth Sonderkommando group revolted, killing 70 SS and causing considerable damage to one of the crematoria; the thirteenth went quietly to their deaths without opposition. Again, what if they all had? Why did so few of the millions of prisoners die like men - failing to offer resistance at any point within the relatively long process of extermination? How did they rationalize that as an appropriate course?
Reading the book's Forward written by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim in 1960 was incredibly insightful for me, bringing a new dimension to the horror of the Holocaust that I had never realized before. I reach this conclusion not in criticism of the Jews involved, but wondering how I would have reacted in similar conditions, wondering what motivated some relatively few to take action and most to remain passive- creating this added dimension to an already unbelievable tragedy.
As for Dr. Nyiszli, he volunteered as a doctor upon arriving at Auschwitz. Mengele decided to use him in a specially built autopsy and O.R. inside Crematorium 2. There he was forced to carry out medical experiments and perform autopsies on dozens of bodies - especially dwarfs and twins. Mengele was also searching for evidence supporting the 'inferiority of the Jewish race.' While Dr. Nyiszli was appalled by the disregard for human life, he was also intrigued by the opportunity to do several hundred autopsies on pairs of twins.
I read this book after having recently read Night by Elie Wiesel and at first was struck by the dispassionate way in which Nyiszli systematically described his arrival at Auschwitz, his selection by Mengele to assist in his research and his entrance into the world of the Sonderkommando where the prisoners wore nice clothes, ate decent food, and had nice beds on which to sleep-- their reward for performing the most horrible daily task of herding their fellow prisoners into the gas chambers and disposing of the bodies afterwards.
Whereas Wiesel described his admission to the camps with emotion and fear, Nyiszli's main emotion is one of relief-- he has been spared from the horrors that awaited most of the inmates to Auschwitz. He will be able to practice medicine and science. He even speaks admirably of some of the "research" being performed on the inhabitants of the gypsy camp, mentioning the considerable progress being made toward developing a treatment for a disease called "dry gangrene of the face."
Wiesel's descriptions of the concentration camps were written from the perspective of a teen-aged boy whose world had fallen apart. Nyiszli's book is written from the point of view of a scientist-- his descriptions are precise, clinical and as I said, dispassionate. Although his wife and young daughter accompanied him to Auschwitz, they were separated from him upon entry and 22 percent of the book goes by (sorry-- Kindle doesn't give page numbers) before he mentions them again with a brief paragraph in which he muses about the fate of his wife, daughter and other family members.
It is quite a contradiction because for all his repeated claims about wanting to document the horror of Auschwitz so that the people outside would know was happening to the Jews, he is working with one of the most notorious Nazis, Dr. Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, and speaks almost approvingly of the research conducted by Mengele, of his conversations with the doctor and of the way in which Mengele saves his life after the Sonderkommando rebel and kill several members of the SS in an escape attempt. Later, as the book progresses, Nyiszli's tone becomes more emotional, almost as though the horrors which surround him become too much for the objective scientist to bear.
So what was Nyiszli? A victim? A scientist? Or a someone who was complicit with the Nazis in order to gain special treatment for himself, willing to look the other way when the most horrible things imaginable were perpetuated upon his fellow prisoners by the Angel of Death?
I think the key may actually lie in Wiesel's powerfully written Night, in which he says that the goal for every prisoner became survival. Wiesel wrote that the inmates at the concentration camps turned on each other as they came to realize that the goal of keeping oneself alive sometimes meant betraying someone else. While it took Wiesel a while to realize this, it seems that Nyiszli realized it from the beginning-- he grabs at the opportunity to serve as a doctor, and again he grabs at the opportunity to demonstrate his forensic skills so he can serve as pathologist- he is clutching at whatever straws he can to keep himself alive. Then, slowly, he is pulled further and further along the road to complicity with the SS, with Mengele, but at the same time he justifies his actions to himself-- he is performing science, he is documenting the horrors around him so that others will know about it, he is providing medical treatment to people who need it.
Did he cross the line from merely trying to survive to being an active participant in Mengele's experiments? I honestly don't know. I simply have to hope for myself, as I have many times in the past, that if faced with the same choice, I would not sell my soul to the devil in order to save my own life.
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I took off stars because 12% of the book consisted of a Preface and an Introduction by other authors (which I speed-read) and then there were a bibliography and notes at the end. I could not give a star to say I liked this book -I did not but felt I had to read it to honor those who died in a very , very small way. They must never be forgotten.
More than any other I’ve ever read, this book exposes just how complicit thousands of people were in the mass murders that took place in the concentration camp and explains in plain English the exact methods the Nazis used for exterminating ‘undesirables’.
Although from a stylistic point of view well-written and very easy to read, I found most chapters difficult to finish purely because of their sickening content.
I finished this book a few days ago and I’m still thinking about it now; it’s really made an impression on me.
This, and Primo Levi’s If This is a Man are, in my opinion, the best accounts from survivors of Auschwitz.
Perhaps one needs to be in his situation to understand his actions. Nevertheless I feel it is a very important piece of Holocaust history.