“What can I say but wow!!!” Bookworm86, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“The tears wouldn’t stop.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Impossible to put down.” RK_Reads, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Heartbreaking and inspirational.” @marla.reads, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“We must die standing up for something.” “And what are we standing up for?” “The most important thing there is. Freedom.” Millions of people walked through Auschwitz’s gates, but she was the first woman who escaped. This powerful novel tells the inspiring true story of Mala Zimetbaum, whose heroism will never be forgotten, and whose fate altered the course of history… Nobody leaves Auschwitz alive. Mala, inmate 19880, understood that the moment she stepped off the cattle train into the depths of hell. As an interpreter for the SS, she uses her position to save as many lives as she can, smuggling scraps of bread to those desperate with hunger. Edward, inmate 531, is a camp veteran and a political prisoner. Though he looks like everyone else, with a shaved head and striped uniform, he’s a fighter in the underground Resistance. And he has an escape plan. They are locked up for no other sin than simply existing. But when they meet, the dark shadow of Auschwitz is lit by a glimmer of hope. Edward makes Mala believe in the impossible. That despite being surrounded by electric wire, machine guns topping endless watchtowers and searchlights roaming the ground, they will leave this death camp. A promise is made––they will escape together or they will die together. What follows is one of the greatest love stories in history… Fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Choice, and The Orphan Train will love this breathtakingly beautiful tale, of courage in the face of tragedy and bravery in the face of fear. Based on a true story, The Girl Who Escaped Auschwitz shows that, in darkness, love can be your light… See what readers are saying about The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz : “I couldn’t put it down, I was reading it all through the night… A beautiful, heart-wrenching story; a story I read with blurry eyes thanks to all the tears. A must-read for all. This one will stick with me forever.’ @bookswithmitch, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Extraordinary… Devastatingly heartbreaking… Absolutely rammed with emotions that will make you smile, cry and laugh.” Bookworm86, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“An AMAZING read! I loved this so much!… Sensational… One of the most inspiring love stories of all time… HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMEND. 100% 5 STARS!! ” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Loved loved loved it.” NetGalley Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I can officially report my tear ducts have run completely and utterly dry… Shattered my heart.” Notablenoveles, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Grips you from the first page and never lets go until you are sitting reading the last pages with tears streaming down your face… Simply cannot put the book down. Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Amazing… Had me in tears.” NetGalley Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Impossible to put it down… The book was absolutely gripping.” RK_Reads, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Had me tearing up… Yet I couldn't put the book down. Absolutely beautiful.” @can’t_stop_reading, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Wow! This one is definitely gonna get ya but it is so worth the emotional roller coaster.” Toreadistobreathe, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Be prepared with a box full of tissues next to you because all throughout the book you won’t have a dry eye.” @jasminegalsreadinglog, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ So emotional and heartbreaking that I actually cried.” Tropical Girl Reads Books, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ I couldn’t put this story down and it definitely tugged at my heart strings. I loved reading Mala’s story.” Heather Loves to Read, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: March 9, 2021
Print pages: 350
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz
“Hungry, Mally?” His whistling stopped abruptly at the particularly loud noise her belly had produced.
Brave and in love, she tossed her head, gazing at his unshaven, tanned face with infinite affection.
“We can go off the road and try to find some more mushrooms,” he suggested, searching her face.
Long before they had escaped Auschwitz, he’d promised to take care of her, to guard her life with his own, to do his utmost to make her forget the horrors of the death camp, but instead, he made her troop along the endless ribbons of half-trodden roads and survive on mushrooms and berries and sleep under the open sky, with only his embrace protecting against the elements.
Little did he know, that was all Mala needed: his arms around her and the air that didn’t carry the stench of crematoriums with it. Hunger was the least of her concerns—Auschwitz had trained her well for surviving on a crust of bread.
“No, I don’t want to stop just yet,” Mala said. “Let’s keep going. The sooner we reach the village, the better. We’ll buy some food, together with civilian clothes for you.” She gave her lover a mischievous once-over. “Else, the partisans will shoot you on sight if you appear before them in such an attire.”
Feeling the molten dental gold rolling under his fingers in his pocket—a ghastly present from the Sonderkommando, the inmates manning the furnaces, to aid their escape—Edek nodded and hastened his step, as though spurred forward by their inaudible, powerful voices: get yourselves to safety, tell the partisans your story, lead them, along with the victorious Red Army, toward this blasted place and avenge all the innocent souls we’ve been forced to burn by those SS beasts.
The SS beasts, whose uniform he was presently wearing.
Passing his hand over the stiff gray-green wool, Edek thought of the moment he’d finally tear the hateful thing off of himself and burn it until nothing was left of it but ash.
Mala stopped to re-tie her boot. Just a few steps ahead of her, Edek gazed at the mountains longingly.
Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t catch the deathly undertone to Mala’s voice when she called his name.
It came from behind, a doomed half-a-gasp cracking with horror.
He turned, smiling—What it is, my love?—and felt his smile faltering, slipping at the sight of her ashen face, her eyes staring ahead. It seemed that all the pain in the world was reflected in their golden irises that had suddenly lost all of their shine.
Standing perfectly still, Edek slowly followed her gaze and felt himself sinking into a black abyss at the sight of two uniformed figures walking purposely and deliberately toward them.
They must have appeared from behind the bend of the road, heavens only knew why. The Germans hardly ever patrolled this area; Edek and Mala had been assured of this much by the Soviet prisoner of war inmates who had conducted several successful escapes themselves and the sympathetic Polish civilians who worked in the camp and were only too glad to stick it to the Nazis by helping another couple of inmates escape.
A dreadful, sickening shiver rising the heckles on his neck, Edek looked with infinite longing at the forest looming to their right, then shifted his gaze back to the approaching German border patrol. The muzzles of their submachine guns shone brightly in the golden rays of July sun. He stared at the weapons with bitter disappointment, angry tears already pricking his eyes. He’d seen far too many comrades mowed down by those guns to nurse a hope that the woods were within reach, that the border patrol men would somehow miss from such close distance, that at least Mala would escape the hail of the German bullets…
As though reading his mind, she picked up his hand and pressed it tightly, shaking her head with a small smile.
He had always been a dreamer. She had always been the voice of reality and, now, that reality stared into his soul with those black muzzles and there was suddenly no escape from it.
“Forgive me, please, Mala… I love you.”
They were the very last words he uttered before the Germans leveled with them, saluted crisply and politely demanded, “Your papers, please, Herr Unterscharführer.”
Edek had had enough. The grim realization of it dawned on him along with the first slanting rays of the sunset bleeding red atop the barracks’ roofs as he watched SS Officer Brück stomp repeatedly on an inmate’s head with the steel-lined sole of his tall jackboot. The guard had been at it for quite some time now; his victim had long ceased not only resisting but moving altogether, and yet, the SS man kept crushing his skull with a disgusted viciousness of a farmer crushing a rodent with his shovel.
After all, that’s precisely what they, the inmates, were to the SS—vermin. The Nazis had made their sentiments known to the new arrivals on their first day. Edek was among the very first political prisoners to receive such a “welcoming address” after their transport spilled them, dazed and sun-blinded, onto the infamous Auschwitz ramp in June of 1940. Seven hundred and twenty-eight people arrived in what used to be Polish barracks that day. It was on that day that Edward Galiński, the maritime school cadet, had ceased to exist. From that moment on, he became Häftling—inmate—531, sentenced to hard labor for…
What was it precisely that the Polish section of the Gestapo had stuck him with? So much time had passed since he was forced to sign his confession, the details of it kept slipping Edek’s mind. A suspiciously sweet-talking, bespectacled German official had courteously explained to him that in order to leave the Gestapo cellar alive, Herr Galiński had better put his signature under the unreadable text in German and admit that he was plotting against the Reich along with other members of the Polish intelligentsia. Edek had tried to explain that he was a simple plumber’s son and had never even dreamt of classing himself with the intellectual elite, let alone enter into any conspiracies as part of their circle. The German official had nodded sympathetically, slammed his fist into Edek’s temple a few times, cleaned his hand thoroughly with a handkerchief, and advised him to think again.
By the end of the week, Edek had signed the paper.
Everyone eventually did, the Gestapo officer had explained to him amiably as he put Edek’s case among rows and rows of similar dull-gray, swastika-bearing folders lining the walls of his newly established office in Tarnov prison. Behind the barred window, instead of Polish national flags that had all been taken down after the German invasion in 1939, crimson Hakenkreuz banners slapped against the façade. In the courtyard, crimson pools of blood sat next to the pockmarked wall. Enemies of the German Reich were shot there—journalists and liberals mostly, who agitated the regular folk and confused their minds against the official state propaganda. The Gestapo did away with such outspoken types first. They spoke the truth far too loudly for the Nazis’ liking.
The Nazi didn’t lie, as Edek learned from the men who shared the same transport to Auschwitz with him. They all were there on the same charges. “We’re guilty of being young, healthy men capable of picking up weapons and organizing a revolt against those Nazi sods,” one of them had said as he pulled on his cigarette, his eyes staring apathetically into the void. At his feet was a small bundle of personal possessions each inmate was permitted to take with him to their new destination, the name of which their escort kept like some sinister secret. He spoke in an undertone, for the abovementioned Nazi sods had replaced Polish policemen at the station and were presently sitting on a bench in the same train car, glaring at the Poles with beady eyes and barking abuse at them each time someone turned their gaze toward the window. “That’s enough for them to ship us all someplace away from the general population on conspiracy charges,” the man had carried on. “Women with children and the elderly don’t represent any threat to them. That’s why they’re the only ones whom the Germans have left in peace, for now at any rate.”
The young man’s name was Wiesław.
Now, three and a half years later, he stood next to Edek and watched the SS guard stomp an inmate to death, and just one stolen glance at his friend’s face told Edek that he had also had enough.
“We have to get out of here,” Edek murmured in Polish.
It was sheer bad luck that Brück, the SS officer, heard him. At once, he whipped around, forgetting all about his victim buried in the mud.
“Using your swine language again?!” He was breathing heavily. In his neck, the vein was bulging under the tight collar with SS markings on it. “Do you wish to spend a few days in the Strafblock to freshen up your principles?”
Eyes downcast, Edek apologized promptly. He’d already spent more days in the punishment cell than he cared to remember. The size of a doghouse, the cell was a concrete sack with no windows or even standing room; only a filthy bucket in the corner to do one’s business and a food bowl placed before him once a day. Though the physical discomfort was not the punishment; the real punishment was the complete and total isolation in that all-consuming darkness that slowly but surely drove one mad. After a mere few hours, a paralyzing sensation of having been buried alive began to creep up and even howling at the top of one’s lungs didn’t help in the slightest. Whoever designed those ghastly affairs went through the pains to ensure that his punishment inventions were almost entirely soundproof. One could scream themselves into consumption; there were only four walls and the echo of your own hoarse voice to reply to the desperate pleas.
No, Edek didn’t fancy going back there at all.
The SS man, hands shoved in pockets, strolled up to the pair. He was a young fellow like them, hardly older than twenty-five, with the same smooth face and bright eyes, only, his body was all flesh and muscle and his head wasn’t shaved but cut according to the fashion—short on the sides and the back, with a long, silky forelock falling onto one eye. The Aryan master of the world, solely on blood principle. A wry smile was playing on his lips.
“What was he saying to you?” He stood nose to nose with Wiesław, his pale blue eyes staring at the inmate without blinking.
But Edek’s friend was not to be deceived by the suddenly friendly tone.
“He was admiring your wristwatch, Herr Scharführer,” he explained in a grave tone in his halting German. “Said he’s never seen such beautiful work.”
Edek began to breathe again. Wiesław could be relied on in such matters—the man’s ability to think on his feet had long ago earned him respect among the camp population.
The SS guard lifted his hand languidly. The red of the sunset glinted softly on the golden face of the watch. Stolen from one Jew or the other, Edek thought to himself but, naturally, said nothing, only apologized for speaking in his native language once again.
Scharführer Brück noticed the short prisoner number on Edek’s chest, recognized a camp veteran and waved him off generously.
It wasn’t the first time that his inmate number, or the red triangle of a political prisoner, had saved him from a beating or a bullet. Ever since the SS brought the first Jews to Auschwitz, it was commonly decided that all of their Nazi ideological hatred would be directed at them. The Poles suddenly found themselves to be elevated to the positions of the Kapos—inmate functionaries—along with the German criminals who proudly wore their civilian clothes with green triangles sewn onto them. Not that Edek minded such a welcome change, but he couldn’t help but feel for the poor devils who were being slaughtered solely for belonging to the wrong race.
“Where are you two heading?” the SS officer asked.
“Birkenau, Herr Scharführer,” Edek replied promptly. “On Rottenführer Lubusch’s orders.”
“Lubusch? The Kommandoführer in the locksmith shop?”
“Jawohl, Herr Scharführer. We’re helping the carpenters on his orders whenever he tells us.”
Edek was about to explain further, but Brück had already lost all interest.
“Take this stinking carcass to the cart—” with a lazy sweep of the hand, Brück indicated to what the inmates called the death cart that stood by the barrack’s wall, a small mountain of corpses piled on it, “and off with you. You were sent here to work, not ogle people’s watches.”
But despite the guard’s grumbling and his smirk, Edek saw how much the compliment had pleased him. The wristwatch must have been expensive indeed. Edek wondered about the man who had parted with it prior to parting with his life and felt sick to his stomach.
We have to get out of here, he had told Wiesław and he meant it. He’d had enough of the SS men trampling their innocent victims to death; he’d had enough of them appropriating the murdered men’s riches. But, more than anything, he’d had enough of showing deference to all of these uniformed bastards, of apologizing for speaking Polish, of having to tear his cap off his shaved head each time one of them was near, of being called a subhuman and having to act like one.
The processing block was in wild confusion, as it always was when a fresh batch of new arrivals was chased through the block’s stations with cracks of the horsewhip and crude insults. On the ramp, many of the unsuspecting women had their hopes high, still. It was in this block that they ordinarily parted with the last of their illusions, aided by the blows of the Kapos and mocking shouts of the SS.
Haunted by the memories of her own blood-chilling experience in the processing block, Mala stood beside the main SS warden’s desk, patiently waiting for the warden to finish her paperwork, and watched the terrified crowd before her with eyes full of inner torment.
A camp runner in charge of delivering SS orders and official documents from one block to another when she wasn’t busy aiding the women’s camp’s leader Maria Mandl with office work, Mala no longer had anything to fear from the wardens or the Kapos. An official armband with an insignia of a Läuferin on her left bicep, civilian clothes and dark-blond hair pulled into a bun instantly distinguished her from the general camp population. And still, she loathed the processing block the most; it was the place where the last fragments of hope were clubbed to death, where former lives were cut short and swept away along with lumps of shorn hair, where names were abolished and replaced by numbers, forever branded into women’s forearms with a crude tattooing tool.
“Lose all of your clothes, you filthy sows! Schnell, schnell, schnell, move it, move it, quick! Everything off; yes, your dirty undergarments also, my gentle piglets.” A harsh snap of the whip was followed by someone’s startled cry. “Quit your stalling and get the line moving before something happens.”
Still, some tried to protest; usually, the matrons from the Orthodox families. Their tearful pleas weren’t about themselves, either; it was their young daughters’ modesty they were concerned about the most: Do with us as you please, but spare the girls, Frau Aufseherin! The sheltered, wide-eyed, petrified girls who trembled in their mothers’ protective embraces before being torn from the loving arms. The girls who were shoved toward the nearest male inmate on duty, who questioned “if they wished to undress themselves or required assistance? Because they were all too glad to deliver.”
Loud guffaws came from the inmate functionary’s comrades. They worked at the next station—a vast room where chairs had been set up in the usual German orderly manner and where the naked, humiliated, crying girls’ hair was shorn by the industrial shaving machines.
It was the shaving that would remain Mala’s worst memory of her own first day at Auschwitz, for as long as she would live. A year and a half had passed since a Red Triangle prisoner ran his coarse fingers through her dark-blond locks—like gold! A shame, really—and tutted in apparent disapproval as Mala’s beautiful hair fell in clumps over her bare shoulders, into her lap and open palms.
As though in defiance, or out of some desire to preserve at least something of her former self, she had clasped one of the locks in her palm and refused to part with it, even when they were being chased through the disinfection block. She held onto it when they were dunked into a tub of some green and atrociously smelling chemical solution; she didn’t let go of it when powder was thrown on her nicked and already-burning scalp, armpits, and pubic area; she kept it clasped in her fist when they were shoved into the dingy room with showerheads glaring at them ominously from the ceiling. Later, Mala had learned that the gas chamber looked precisely the same. Fortunately for her, the receiving SS doctor on the ramp was looking for persons with knowledge of languages and she fluently spoke six. No gas for Mala that day; a regular shower only. Essential inmates were in short supply; she learned it quickly enough.
The Orthodox girls parted with their hair with a sort of a resigned apathy. They would have to part with it soon regardless; it was a custom for a Jewish bride to shave her head on the night of her wedding and keep it shaved for the rest of her life, wearing turbans or wigs in public, and remaining as bald as the day she was born until her death. But Mala wasn’t raised in a religious Jewish household. Her father positively refused the idea of the commune, of a woman’s sole role being a mother and homemaker, of having to consult religious leaders on just about any major decision, and so, he had moved his entire family from the Polish city of Brzesko to a much more cosmopolitan Antwerp in Belgium and raised his daughter to be an independent and self-sufficient young woman.
Against Orthodox rules, Pinkus Zimetbaum encouraged Mala to get the best education he could provide and, when the family business fell on hard times due to his rapidly progressing blindness, he would not stop expressing his gratitude to Mala for picking up the role of the breadwinner. To be sure, their old conservative Polish community’s rabbis would have never approved of a young woman working in the well-known fashion store Maison Lilian, but Pinkus did, and not only did he approve, he actively encouraged his daughter to make her own living so that she wouldn’t have to be dependent on anyone’s goodwill.
“This way, if something happens to me, you shall be able to support yourself, Mally. I brought you here, to Antwerp, so you would live your own life, the way you want and not the way the commune sees fit. So you would discover love all on your own, instead of marrying someone a commune’s matchmaker found for you. I couldn’t bear the thought of it—you, being unhappy. I want you to be as free as you wish and enjoy everything the world has to offer. You’re such a brilliant girl, Mally. A brilliant girl and a free spirit, of which I’m immensely proud. Do not allow anyone to take your freedom away.”
But the Nazis came to Belgium after they swallowed up the other European countries just as effortlessly and, unlike Mala’s father, they didn’t care one whit whether she was Orthodox or assimilated. A Jew was a Jew and the only good Jew was a dead one, or at least one working for the prosperity of the Reich—such was the latest psychology among the Germans. Next, the familiar business came—the holding camp in Malines, the cattle train, Auschwitz, number 19880 tattooed into her skin.
First, they took her freedom. Then, they took her hair. The latter Mala had already managed to get back. One day, she would regain the former; she swore it to herself.
Now, a camp veteran, she watched these new girls being shorn like sheep with somber, pitying eyes and couldn’t help but run her fingers through her own hair, as though to ensure that it was still there, that she had pulled through, that she had clawed her way to the very top of the local totem pole and was safe from abuse and obliteration. And yet, she still carried that lock of shorn hair neatly tucked in the small cloth bag she kept in her skirt’s pocket. It was a reminder of her freedom lost and her promise to regain it one day.
“This is the abuse of human rights that goes beyond any comprehension!” cried out one woman now. “We aren’t criminals; what reason do you have for putting us here and treating us as such?”
Instantly alarmed, Mala glanced up sharply at the woman who dared to speak up. She was still dressed, very smartly at that, in a tweed suit and patent leather shoes. Mala noticed one of the inmate functionaries already ogling them with unhealthy interest.
Pushing herself off the wall against which she was leaning, Mala made a move toward the vocal lady, who hadn’t, apparently, grasped the fact that there was no such notion as human rights in this death factory.
Refusing to be silenced by the terrified crowd around her, her voice was gathering volume and conviction along with it. “I studied international law. There has never been a precedent such as this in the civilized nations’ history that free people were rounded up and herded like sheep for slaughter into camps against their will. I demand to speak to the representatives of the international—”
A blow from a Kapo’s baton put an abrupt end to her complaint. He had administered it atop her scalp with the impersonal cruelty of a butcher who had long grown used to the job and performed it mechanically and exemplarily well. Like a puppet, from which someone had just cut a string, the woman fell in a heap at the Kapo’s feet.
“Is the big-mouthed bitch dead?” the SS warden inquired from behind the desk. She had not once raised her elegantly coiffured head from the list, onto which she was writing the names and numbers.
The Kapo dealt a sharp kick into the woman’s midsection. The entire block could hear the air escape her lungs; yet, the Kapo’s most recent victim had not budged.
“Jawohl, Frau Aufseherin,” the Kapo confirmed, undisturbed. “Process her.” He gestured to two of his underlings. He didn’t need any more direct orders from the uniformed woman. He was a well-oiled killing machine, with a wooden baton at his hip as a sign of the SS-granted authorization to reduce the numbers of the undesirables, with empty eyes devoid of any emotion.
The corpse was stripped bare without further ceremony. In the corner, by the tall sacks already filled with the discarded clothing, two women from the Kanada—the sorting Kommando where the prisoners’ belongings were confiscated and redistributed—were arguing over the dead woman’s jacket. Mala watched on as another inmate was already shaving the former lawyer’s curled hair, while his Kommando mate was probing her orifices for hidden valuables.
“Just two golden fillings in her mouth,” he announced the result of his search.
An inmate dentist was already waiting nearby with the pliers at the ready.
The SS warden gasped suddenly. “That blasted cow! Does anyone know her name?”
“Helga Schwarz,” the Kapo supplied his victim’s name after consulting the documents that the Kanada Kommando left lying on the floor—their only interest was in the clothing, not yet another dead Jew’s identity.
“Dr. Helga Schwarz,” Mala corrected him very softly. “She was a Doctor of Law.”
It was oddly pleasing to see that the warden added “doctor” before the woman’s name in the list that she handed to Mala, allowing the murdered woman that last dignity at least in death.
As Mala carried the processing block paperwork to the camp office to be filed, she kept whispering Dr. Schwarz’s name under her breath, committing it to her memory. The Nazis and their subordinates may have slaughtered and already forgotten her, one of their countless victims, but Mala wouldn’t. She would carry her memory out of the camp and tell the world that Dr. Schwarz had died a hero, fighting for her fellow sufferers’ rights till the end.
As it always was in the middle of the afternoon, the camp locksmith shop was abuzz with activity. The machines roared and hummed; now and then, sparks descended upon the concrete floor in a shimmering waterfall. Metal shavings crunched under the boots of the Kapos, who strolled about with an air of importance, their coarse fingers caressing the handles of their batons, while their hard, piercing eyes searched for the slightest excuse to apply their clubs to one’s back. The strong smell of iron and grease hung in the air.
After a rather superficial inspection, Edek hurled a metal part he’d just produced into a wooden box. It was his two hundred and seventy seventh for today, he realized with a sort of grim self-loathing. He didn’t mind making the locks, but then, one day, Karl, one of their Kapos—a short, mean-spirited German whose mouth was permanently twisted into a malicious smirk—had informed them of their products’ ultimate destination. Suddenly, everyone’s stomach had contracted with revulsion for contributing to the successful functioning of the Nazi terror machine.
“The Gestapo jails, my gentle lambs,” Karl had declared in a singsong, jeering voice. It was obvious from his hateful smile the diabolical pleasure he was drawing from their communal look of mute, stunned disbelief. “You’re helping lock up your own people. They shall thank you, I’m sure, when they arrive here. If, they make it this far.”
Karl was a professional criminal, sent to Auschwitz for re-educational purposes. Edek always found it perplexing, the fact that the German justice system placed murderers, rapists, and thieves above them, former ordinary civilians who had never broken the law, solely on blood principle. According to the Nazis’ warped logic, Reichsdeutsche criminals could be re-educated; in contrast, Polish nationals, Soviet prisoners of war and Jews belonged in concentration camps.
In the midnight silence of his barrack, Edek often lay wide awake and searched his memory to pinpoint the exact day when the world had turned upside down, when the criminals began to be hailed as heroes, when free press had turned into a propaganda machine, when a narcissistic, cruel dictator started to be looked upon with reverence as a savior of the nation—and could not. Soon, he ceased thinking about it altogether. It outraged his sense of justice far too much; it made him tremble with righteous indignation and, in Auschwitz, wasting one’s nerves on empty illusions was a sure ticket to the gas.
“Whatever are you getting yourself wound up for?” Wiesław had demanded one night, his voice thick with sleep. They shared a bunk and all of Edek’s tossing must have gotten to him after all. “You’re wasting precious energy for nothing. Will your perfect logic about the world order persuade the SS to release you? Fat chance. So quit your stirring and exasperated sighing and off to sleep with you. In a place like this, one ought to forget about such matters in order to survive. Now, what you need to remember is who from the SS kitchen trades bread for cigarettes and which Kapo won’t bash your head in for spending more than a minute in the latrine. Those are the matters of paramount importance. All else is irrelevant.”
Two hundred and seventy-eight. Now, Edek marked the number on the sheet and thought about the extra ration of turnip soup he would receive if he produced five hundred of such details—the reward for over-completing the daily quota, according to the new Kommandant’s orders. The old one had operated slightly differently: he simply sent the prisoners who couldn’t keep up to the crematoriums.
Two hundred and seventy-eight details to produce two hundred and seventy-eight locks to lock two hundred seventy-eight people up in the dingy Gestapo cellars that stunk of blood and death. It was beyond comprehension, the fact that such numbers could exist in the first place, that there wer. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...