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This review is from: Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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This memoir by Miklos Nyiszli was first published in English in 1960, but there has been an alteration made to that original text. Bruno Bettelheim's original foreword has now been placed at the back of the book as an afterword, and a new introduction by Richard J Evans takes its place at the front. If you are coming to this book for the first time then I would strongly urge you to read both of these, and even if you have read a previous edition I would recommend Evans' introduction which is excellent. Bettelheim's piece is if you read it quite controversial, but his ideas at the time were held in greater credence than in today's world.
In all, even taking in the introduction and the afterword this book is quite slim and is a relatively quick read. Nyiszli never had any pretensions about being a great writer and this is thus an easy read, he doesn't get fancy in his writing, just gives us what he thought and saw at the time. So who was Miklos Nyiszli? By the time he was interred in Auschwitz he was an established pathologist, and this ultimately led to him surviving to tell his tale. Being of use Josef Mengele took him under his wing and he became part of the Sonderkommando, those Jews who did the dirty work for the Germans, disposing of the bodies after gassing, etc.
I could go on about the harrowing life for Jews and others in the infamous death camp, but I know we already know all that, and I suspect some people get bored of books like this. Why this works is because in some ways it shows a different aspect of the camp and life. People tend to think of all the deaths of Jews, but as shown here with the extermination of the gypsies, others were also included. The place was rife with disease and starvation, and you had Mengele carrying out his infamous experiments, but at the same time it is worth being reminded that such a place was to a certain extent a town, with people working away at jobs, and even a 'black market' in place.
This isn't just about the Holocaust, but about how people manage to survive in such dreadful conditions, and how the pursuit of science can blur ethics and morals for some people. I always think it is ironic that Mengele had to go on the run and under cover to escape a War Crimes tribunal, but his Japanese counterpart, Shiro Ishii, who conducted awful experiments on people in Harbin on the Chinese mainland was given immunity from being tried for War Crimes by the US Government, due to his research being given to them and its implications with regard to biological warfare. Obviously it matters on what studies you do when you commit attrocities on how you will be treated at a later date.
After the war Miklos Nyiszli went from being a pathologist for Mengele to giving evidence at Nuremberg, after all he was a good witness after seeing what he had.