I could probably talk about a few movies I've seen lately or how I've been doing stuff in PHP. I could probably even mention some comic books that have recently caught my attention, but I'm not going to. This post is all about a book I just finished. There will be no distractions.
Because of Romek - A Holocaust survivor's story
I went to the Mall with the wife and kids recently. As I was being led from store to store, we passed a Waldenbooks. Seeking refuge from scented lotions and candles, shoes, purses and other womanly pursuits, I excused myself and made a beeline to the beckoning refuge.
There was a small folding table set up out front, behind which sat a tiny, bald and wrinkled old man. As I approached, he handed me a flyer for a book called Because of Romek: A Holocaust Survivor's Memoir and pointed himself out in the badly copied photograph on the flyer as well as on the cover of the book (one of many stacked on the small table), with "that was me." As I glanced over the flyer, he continued talking and showed me the identification tattoo that the Nazis were nice enough to give him while he was awaiting extermination.
As I read Non Sequitur in the following Sunday's comics, a lump formed in my throat. 'Twas a very weird coincidence.
I don't often read non-fiction. I do enjoy reading fiction that has some historical relevance or at least some basis in factual events - just enough to make me feel like I'm learning something. I tend to shy from books that are, in my experience, generally dry and tranquilizing. But something inspired me to pick this one up (the author signed it, too) and to even start reading while I waited on a bench for my wife to come out of one shop after another.
This book, though clearly non-fiction, feels as if it should be fiction. The story is well-paced and the vividly horrific events are shared through the eyes of a young boy. The writing has a very personal feel to it - it keeps you riveted (surprisingly, there are a few typographical errors that have made their way into the text).
The story begins many years after WWII. The author has left Europe and is trying to put his horrific past behind him when he is contacted by the German government, bringing long suppressed memories back to the forefront of his consciousness. Along the way, the author discovers things about his older brother, Romek, that inspire hm to chronicle his experiences for others.
The author was a boy of thirteen who lost his family and was shipped like cattle, with his fellow prisoners, from concentration camp to concentration camp. One
It was almost morning when I reached the front of the line. A guard took hold of my arm and jerked me toward him.
I winced and made a face as he jabbed a pen into my wrist.
The man grinned. "You don't like it?" he asked.
He slapped my face with his open hand, knocking out two front teeth. Blood spurted from my nose and mouth.
"You think this hurts? Just wait! You know where you are?"
"You're in Auschwitz. What did you think you came for, a vacation? This is where we'll get rid of you, you bastard!"
He stabbed the pen deep into my flesh, yanked it out, and stuck it back in, again and again. Every time he pulled it out, I prayed it was the end. My arm hurt so much I forgot about my other pains.
He shoved me away and reached for the next person.
I wasn't a person anymore. Just a number - 161051. I felt more lost than ever. My body shook as I tried not to let them see me sob.
It's hard to imagine a young teen going through, much less surviving, such horrible life experiences. But the abuse of his own body wasn't the only horror he had to survive.
I was sent to work inside the gas chamber itself. My job was to pull gold teeth from the mouths of the dead. The first few times I saw all the bodies - men, women, and children - I vomited. The sense of horror never left me, but after the first week I stopped throwing up.
A transport made up almost entirely of women and children came to the crematorium. When I went in, I saw a young woman, maybe around thirty, lying on the floor with an infant in her arms. The baby was alive, still nursing at its mother's breast.
Just in case you missed it - the mother was dead, having been gassed. Horrifying, isn't it? But it gets worse.
I picked up the child, a beautiful little girl. Tears ran down my face as I held her in my arms and she looked up at me. I was wondering how I could save that baby. I knew there was a women's camp nearby. If I could smuggle the baby to the women, maybe they could save her.
"What are you doing with that baby?" a guard demanded.
"Nothing, sir. She was with her mother. I was bringing her to you."
"You lying bastard Jew, you'll pay for that." He grabbed the baby and threw her into the fire.
The author received brutal torture for his ill-fated good deed, but survived to be brutalized another day.
With the day of salvation just around the corner, conditions for the prisoners became steadily worse. The Nazis stopped feeding them and the survivors turned to cannibalism:
Other than the few scraps of bread that had been thrown over the fence the day before, there was no food anywhere in the camp. People became desperate. Some of those who were still alive started to eat the flesh of the dead. There were some horse wagons, and people pulled the metal parts off the wheels. They sharpened the metal on stones that they found, and then used the metal to cut away pieces of flesh to east. There wasn't much flesh there, mainly just skin and bones. I felt my stomach turn, and I couldn't watch anymore.
After all the horrible events recounted in this book, it's reassuring that some good finally happened to the author in London. I tire of quoting from the book, so you'll have to read it yourself.
Yet another weird coincidence: one of the British nurses who found and succored the author back to was named "Mrs. Crosthwaite." The very day that I read the end of this book (for some reason, I had put it off for a few days) I had been tasked with locating a means of disposing the many 17" monitors languishing unused in storage. I discovered a facility, but was unable to locate the exact address due to an inability to spell the street name correctly. The Street name: Crosthwaite Drive. Very weird.
This book, in addition to the life-altering narrative of the Holocaust, contains numerous personal photos of the Faber family and other people/events from the story. Pick up a copy of this book if you can. You won't be sorry.
Have you read this book? Tell me about it here. I'd like to hear your thoughts. Or just blab on about any old thing.