Book Review: Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account

Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness AccountTitle: Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account

Author: Miklos Nyiszli, translator Richard Seaver

Publisher: Arcade Publishing

Copyright: 1960, 2011 by Miklos Nyiszli; translation copyright 1993, 2011 by Richard Seaver

Reason for Reading: Overwhelming curiosity as to how someone in Nyiszli’s shoes could make the choices he made

Grade: A+

As I said last week, it would take some time for me to finish this book, and it definitely did that. It was painful. Reading, for example, Nyiszli’s accounts of saving a teenage girl who somehow survived the Zyklon-B gassing that took the lives of every other Jew in the chamber, only to have her summarily executed almost immediately, was agonizing.

After having completed the book, I also say that I have to question Bettelheim’s foreword. Based on that, I was expecting to find that Nyiszli was kowtowing to Mengele and the SS, and praising the pseudo-scientific studies being conducted. Far from it. He recognized and referred to the studies as pseudo-scientific. He did what he had to do to survive.  And in the long run, that is what we all do.

Except for those millions of Jews who obediently walked to their deaths. Nyiszli refers to the horrific conditions in the camps and on the marches, but his tales are nothing new to anyone who has ever studied the Holocaust. The questions are still unanswered. Perhaps the answers never will come.

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7 Responses to Book Review: Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account

  1. Gwen says:

    I am going to pick this one up. I agree with you in always looking for answers as to why, yet I don’t think there will ever be an acceptable one. Still, the more I learn about that period, the more I understand that sometimes the need to survive can make us do things that are truly horrible.

    • Gwen, thank you for visiting & commenting!

      You’re right–it’s human nature, I believe, to do whatever it takes to survive. I can’t judge Dr. Nyiszli for some of his more questionable actions, not by a long shot. He did what he had to do, and he saved any people he could save. He was one of the fortunate ones, who not only escaped with his life, but he was able to get his wife and daughter out of Auschwitz before their unit was due to be liquidated.

      That’s also why I have trouble understanding why so many obediently walked to their deaths. Did they think there was nothing they could do? The Sonderkommando who rebelled did end up losing their lives, but they were able to take a fair few SS guards and officers with them. If more people had rebelled, perhaps the war would have ended sooner, or ended differently. Perhaps fewer lives would have been lost in the long run. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure.

      • Gwen says:

        The closest I can come to understanding those that “obediently” walked to their death is when I think about it from a trauma standpoint. Think about it, have you ever been through something major, like a car accident or personal attack? There is a few moments where you are numb, almost on autopilot. These people had been going through shock after shock for years, I can imagine them sort of shutting out the lights of their brains and blindly being led to their doom.

        However, I will never understand those that created that hell and killed people. While I understand that the mob mentality exists and many thought that they had to in order to save their own lives, I can’t accept their choices to take other’s lives to save their own skin.

  2. Staci says:

    I agree with you that people do what they must to survive. I’ve often thought that many of us criticize choices made but unless we walked a mile in their shoes we’ll never really understand what they had to endure. Thought provoking book indeed!

  3. jennygirl says:

    completely agree with your thoughts and the commenter’s above. It’s easy to judge what others do when you yourself have not been in that situation. History repeats itself so we must never forget and learn a lesson, no matter how terrible it is.
    Excellent fortitude to finish such a book. Thank you.

  4. This sounds like a fascinating book. I’ve read about Mengele but none of the other doctors, so I’m adding this book to my to-read list. I’ve linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

  5. Scriptor Obscura says:

    There is also a movie that is based on the events described in this book, just in case you and/or others may be interested. The movie is called The Grey Zone, and more information can be found about it here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grey_Zone

    and also here:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0252480/

    It is a tough movie to watch, but a story that is well worth knowing and remembering. We must never forget what happened. I agree with the other commenters above. I believe that the human instinct for survival compels us to do whatever, indeed, anything we must do, in order to preserve ourselves. The human instinct for self-preservation dictates that if circumstances push us far enough, we would do and say anything in order to survive the most hellish of all times, and this is exactly what the author of this book did himself, to preserve his own life as well as that of his family. Others who did not or who were not willing to take the measures that he did to preserve his life were killed, and as morally reprehensible, ignominious, and nauseating Nyiszli’s collaboration may seem to us in this day and age when viewing it from hindsight, it is understandable why a person would choose collaboration, albeit forced collaboration under the pain of death, rather than be wiped out and exterminated and join the ranks of the victims of this horrible period in history.

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