Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: "Auschwitz: A New History" by Laurence Rees

From Goodreads:  "Auschwitz is the site of the largest mass murder in human history. Yet its story is not fully known. In Auschwitz Laurence Rees provides a devastating and shocking portrait of the most infamous death camp the world has ever seen. He reveals new insights from more than 100 original interviews with Auschwitz survivors and Nazi perpetrators who speak on the record for the first time. Their testimonies expose the inner workings of the camp in unrivalled detail - from the techniques of mass murder, to the bizarre microcosms that emerged within the camp, such as the brothel and dining hall, where the lines between guards and prisoners became surprisingly blurred." Auschwitz is a history we cannot afford to ignore, first because history that is ignored is liable to be repeated, and second because we should never allow ourselves to be persuaded that mankind is somehow today incapable of such unspeakably cruel acts. Auschwitz is not only the story of one singular camp where more than one million people were murdered, but also a timely reminder about the indelible human potential for committing evil.

My Thoughts:  This book was really eye-opening in more ways than one.  I would venture to guess that everyone has heard about Auschwitz but we don't ever hear about from the people who created it as well as the people who worked, lived and died at the camp.  This book provides that kind of insight into the minds of the people who experienced Auschwitz either as a prisoner or as a Nazi working at the camp.  There were several interviews with former guards in the book that were just mind blowing.  We always hear about how the guards 'were just following orders' but after reading this book, I definitely do not believe that.  Rees interviewed former Nazi guards who worked at Auschwitz and truly believed that the Jewish people were responsible for World War I and for the downfall of Germany as a great power and believed that the Jews were getting what they deserved.  What was even more amazing about this is that these former guards still, to this day, believe in what they did and are not remorseful.  

It was also interesting to read the accounts of former prisoners.  It surprised me to see how many different kinds of people were housed in Auschwitz: Jews, political prisoners, gypsies, prisoners of war, etc.  The list is endless and I don't think I ever realized how much of a catch-all it was for people the Nazis wanted to get rid of or use as slave labor.  I also was very surprised by the discussion of the women who worked in "Canada" (the area where people left their belongings before being led to the gas chamber).  These women were actually able to eat and look like women (their head wasn't shaved, they wore normal clothes) and this was how they survived.  I had actually never heard of this and was very surprised by the picture of a girl who worked in this area; needless to say, she did not look like the typical Auschwitz prisoner but she suffered there nonetheless.  I think that the suffering of everyone who walked through the gates of Auschwitz touched me most of all and that despite the unspeakable losses these people suffered, they still maintained a strong desire to live.

As I said above, this was a very eye-opening book.  If you have any interest in the Holocaust or the World War II history, you should definitely check this out.  4 stars.


  1. I've seen the DVD series that is based upon this book, and from your review, I can gauge that the book is just as harrowing. I can never get over how cruel people can be to each other.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. I didn't know there was a DVD based on the book. I will have to look into it. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. It seems to be researched by the same fellow: here.
    My pleasure. :)


Imagination Designs