This is the story of a woman who spent about seven months in Auschwitz and survived to tell the tale. She wrote this book shortly after her ordeal, while her horrific experience was still fresh in her mind. It was definitely a mind numbing, life changing experience, as it saw the loss of her entire family, her parents, her children, and her husband. It should be noted that none of them, including Olga, were Jewish.
Olga Lengyel lived an upper-middle class existence in Transylvania, in the capital city of Cluj. Her husband, Dr. Miklos Lengyel, was a Berlin trained medical doctor and the director of a private hospital that he had built shortly before the onset of World War II. Olga had also studied medicine and was qualified to be a surgical assistant. She and her husband had two young sons. They were all surviving the war as best they could, with Germans an occupying force. They even had a German soldier billeted with them for a time.
Olga had begun to hear disturbing things about what the Germans were doing in occupied territories, but had discounted it. She felt that Germany, a country that had contributed so much culturally to the world, could not be culpable of some of the atrocities of which she was hearing. She felt the stories that she was hearing were too fantastical to be believable. Then her husband came under the cross-hairs of the Nazis, accused of having his hospital boycott pharmaceuticals made by the German Bayer Company. This was the beginning of the end for the Lengyel family. Shortly thereafter in May of 1944, he was ordered to be deported to Germany.
When Olga heard this, she insisted on accompanying her husband, as she thought that he would be put to work in a German hospital. She naively asked the Nazis if she could accompany her husband, and they had no objection. When her parents heard, they insisted on going with them, which meant that Olga's young sons would also be going. Once they got to the train station and saw that they were all to board a cattle car with ninety six other people, they knew that their nightmare was just beginning. Their destination was Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Olga recounts the horrors that awaited her family there. Hers is a testament to the brutality of the Nazi regime towards Jews and non-Jews alike. In it Olga chronicles her first hand observations of Dr, Joseph Mengele and his passion for twins and dwarfs, as well as his mad scientist medical experiments. She recalls her run ins with the "blonde angel", the exceptionally beautiful and sadistic Nazi, Irma Griese. She talks about the selections that were made, which determined who lived and who died. She makes it clear that the Jews were targeted, first and foremost, for extermination. She recounts the utter depravity with which the inmates of the camp were treated, creating a veritable hell on earth.
Ms. Lengyel gives a no-holds-barred account of life at one of the most notorious concentration camps run by the Nazis. It should be noted that the five chimneys in the title of her book refers to the chimneys of the crematoriums, which towards the end of the war appeared to be burning night and day. While her chronicle might have benefited from some better or more careful editing, this is a minor criticism, as hers is a powerful voice in the arena of holocaust literature. It is a book that should be read by those who are interested in learning more about these concentration camps and about man's inhumanity to man.