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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account (Penguin Modern Classics)
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VINE VOICEon 1 February 2013
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This is not the "best" book (if "best" can indeed be the word to use) nor is it the "worst" (again, if that is the word to use) that I have read on the subject of the Nazi Final Solution. However, it is brief and very much to the point and brings into very sharp focus what man will do to man and man will do for man in the most extreme of circumstances.
Documenting the events from the moment Dr Nyszli disembarked from his cattlewagon on the Jewish ramp at the Auschwitz terminal, you find that through a sequence of "good" fortune (if good is the correct word) that this man manages to survive the death camp and indeed, goes on to survive the holocaust itself, although the road itself, from start to end, is full of dangers - the wrong word, the wrong nuance, even the wrong demeanour could have resulted in a bullet to the back of the head or the long walk down the ramp to the gas chambers and crematorium. Given the same circumstances what would YOU do is always coming into your mind whilst reading the detail within these 200 or so pages. Indeed, given similar circumstances, could the same thing happen all over? We think we are today, more civilised and that nothing like this could ever happen again, but the reality is that it could happen again unless we maintain our guard against racism. That said, our current world is no different in our prejudices than they were in my father's day and although in the army during the holocaust times, he did not see these horrors at first hand (but saw plenty of others) and he narrated to me on many occasions exactly how prejudicial society really was back then!
The Afterword is very much thought provoking too asking why millions would walk to their deaths without attempting to escape or indeed resist. Unlike Sonderkommando 12 who all died (and they would have in any case) but they did resist and apart from causing damage to the Auschwitz machinery, they took many of their tormentors with them!
Certainly this book is not for the faint of heart or indeed a pleasure to read but SHOULD be read as a warning from history of exactly what can happen when society breaks down.
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VINE VOICEon 22 November 2012
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There have been many books written about the Holocaust and rightly so. This one is different in that it is written by a Jewish pathologist who worked for Doctor Death /The Angel of Death; Josef Mengeles. It reveals the practical nature of all humans wanting to survive in whatever way they can. Morality goes out the window. The Nazis wanted rid of gypsies, gays, disabled and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. The immaculately turned out Dr Death's experiments contributed nothing to human knowledge. They just heaped pointless depravity upon pointless depravity. What a waste of human talent. People were too afraid to criticize him. It is so horrific to think that this little village of death functioned so cruelly and meaninglessly for so long. This depressing book could be read in two hours; so everybody in the world who can read should read a book like this. It mentions how Jewish prisoners went into the gas chambers after their fellow Jews and families had been gassed to collect the bodies. They weren't scattered about the floor but in a pile with women and children at the bottom! They were trying to get higher to get away from the gas at any cost. The bodies were then stripped of gold teeth etc; cremated and the ashes were thrown into the Volga. UNBELIEVABLE! It is true and it 100% happened; but it is still unbelievable that people could act like this to save their own skins. Presumably we would all be the same.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 January 2013
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I can't give this book 5* because 5* means 'I love it' and I didn't 'love it' who could? I'd happily give 10* if Amazon had an appropriate rating system for this type of book. Shame on them.

Nyiszli was a forensic physician and, as such, was selected for work instead of immediate death. He worked as a doctor to the SS and had a role as pathologist examining the bodies of those murdered by Dr Mengele in his frenzied attempt to prove the superiority of the Aryan race. Nyiszli was in a unique position within the SS. Both loathed and necessary. He was given a huge amount of access to the camp and it's workings plus immediate contact with some of the most reviled creatures caught up in its admininstration; Dr. Mengele for example. His account is unique from that perspective and he offers great insight into the 'final solution' some aspects of which I hadn't considered.

I've read quite a few survivor accounts and found this one particularly disturbing as it was written by a doctor and his cold, scientific reporting style when dealing with medical examinations of murdered children was particularly harrowing. At the point when he drags a surviving child out of the gas chamber to revive her, care for her and then see her killed minutes later was almost too much to bear. We must never judge him. One of the cruelest aspects of the Nazi's was their ability to force human beings into situations of horrendous moral turmoil. We've never been in that situation and so we mustn't judge.

Short, compact book that takes little time to read but will remain in your heart for a long, long time.
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on 24 May 2013
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'Auschwitz' is an eyewitness account of a Hungarian Jew, Miklós Nyiszli, who was sent to Auschwitz along with his wife and daughter. Upon his arrival Nyiszli is separated into the 'able' where his training as a pathologist meant he became Dr. Mengele's assistant pathologist performing autopsies aiding Mengele's twisted research into twins, dwarfs and other subspecies that risked polluting the Aryan race.

What follows is a dispassionate and heartbreaking retelling of his experiences and the impossible positions the SS savagery put him. Does he confirm the diagnosis of typhus and condemn the death of thousands in a camp, or contradict the doctors, sparing the the ill for a little longer but condemning the doctors to death?

A difficult and horrific, but important read.
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on 11 October 2001
I have always had an interest in the Holocaust, but until I read this book some fourteen years ago, it had always remained at a distance.
A reputable colleague at work handed me a copy of this book and said 'this is worth a read'.
Having begun, I could not put the book down. The book gripped me from start to finish. The story is horrific but, nevertheless, it is a story that we all owe it to ourselves to be familiar with.
The story and the author's experiences were so profound and penetrating that I have spent the last fourteen years studying and reading as much about the Holocaust as I can. I have visited the Concentration Camps at Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Birkenau and Plaszov, together with other areas in Poland directly connected with the Jewish Holocaust.
I have seen the buildings full of human hair from the Jewish victims, the gas chambers, crematoria and the other hideous instruments of mass murder referred to in this book.
The book by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli will not take you long to finish. The voices of the victims referred to have long since disappeared. Many people today are not even aware of the Holocaust and others deny it's very existence.
Books like these, written by people who were actually there, are essential if our this and forthcoming generations are to be made aware of "man's inhumanity to man" and to prevent such a horror from occurring again.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2012
I ordered this despite its description , and thinking it might be something that I'd rather not read, as I wanted to read further about the medical experimentation within the concentration camps, having had some idea of Dr Mengele's ' experiments' on twins and experiments about how the human body coped with hypothermia.
In actuality the book doesn't give much in depth information of what the experimentation entailed but gives more about how the prisoners were selected , and how they were exterminated . It also describes the Sonderkommando (SK) who were prisoners whose job it was to clear out the " shower rooms" and move the corpses of their countrymen , women and children into the incinerators. The SK were dispensable too and were exterminated after they had carried out their grisly job a certain number of times.
The author a Hungarian doctor who was a Pathologist before the war was given the job as Camp Pathologist and instructed by Dr Mengele to carry out autopsies , making methodical notes, and to give medical care to camp staff and SK. In return for this his relative 'safety' was assured along with perks of more food and some slight protection for his family who were interred in another part of the camp.
I have nothing but admiration for the author and his bravery and tenacity to survive such a place and such an experience . Once the camps were liberated a long match followed which he survived and which then meant that he lived to tell the tale , This is why this account gets a 5 star , not because I Love the book , because it is hard to read , but because these tales MUST be told and MUST be read , and this atrocity must never happen again.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 January 2013
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Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew sent to the extermination camp in 1944 was 'fortunate' enough to be selected for work rather than the gas chamber. As a well qualified and experienced forensic physician, he was chosen to work within the Sonderkommando who kept the 'processing' of the extermination process working. His role was to act as doctor to the kommando and the SS and act as pathologist on those killed in whom Mengele had a 'scientific' interest, due to their potential as evidence in proving the degeneracy of non-Aryan races. The Sonderkommando teams were comparatively well looked after, but knew that after 4 months they would meet the same fate as their fellow prisoners and be replaced with fresh workers. This book is Nyszli's account of his experiences.

This is, I think, a remarkable book, the almost understated spareness of the account making the terrible experiences of the author all the more shocking because there is so little sense that he is trying to manipulate one's emotions. The events speak for themselves, without the (entirely excusable) hand-wringing and wailing that other writers might employ in creating a 'literary' work. Moments of unspeakable awfulness linger in the memory because so straightforwardly recounted: the hand-picked father and son, hunchback and 'cripple', respectively, who are selected by Mengele to serve as research into proving the 'degeneracy' of the Jewish race - Nyiszli is required to calibrate their living anatomies (they and Nyiszli are unaware of their immediate fate)and literally hours later, perform autopsies on their corpses and arrange for the reduction of their bodies to skeletons for despatch to a respected Berlin university as research items; the young girl who inexplicably survives the gas-chamber, is revived by Nyiszli who pleads strenuously that she be diverted to another part of the camp so that she might live, but who is shot by the SS in the back of the head because she is too immature to maintain her silence about the reality of the extermination programme; the barely mentioned but truly awful-to-contemplate dual autopsies performed on tiny twin babies to further entirely spurious 'research'.

Of course some readers will despair at Nyiszli 'co-operating' with the system and using his refined medical skills to carry out autopsies, though never to injure the living. However, I would suggest that one of the vilest aspects of the Nazi regime was the way quite grotesque moral dilemmas were forced on perfectly decent people who had the starkest of choices: co-operate to extend one's survival or die. Each of us can only wonder what, god-forbid, we might have to do in such circumstances. It is a bold human being who can claim moral superiority over this Hungarian Jew, shipped to Auschwitz as part of the 'Final Solution'.

Other reviewers have described the foreword as dull and boring: I disagree. It is a fairly academic piece, of course, but is valuable in giving some background about the key protagonists (Nyiszli confines his account to the Auschwitz experience and ultimate escape). It also illuminates the outlines of a very interesting debate that has taken place over the decades regarding the nature of the Jewish responses to the persecution and the reasons for the responses. I found it fascinating. The afterword by Betelheim embodies a particular range of attitudes to the topic: though in many ways a disagreeable response, it is worth reading for the questions it raises about the ways humanity deals with monstrosity.

I don't think I will ever want to read this again, but I am very glad to have done so.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 6 February 2013
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First published back in 1960, Dr Miklós Nyiszli's memoir of his experience within the notorious extermination facility, Auschwitz, was entitled 'Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account'. The book was published just four years after Nyiszli's death and contains a truly haunting but unique account of the atrocities performed within the vast extermination complex under the rule of the Third Reich.

DLS Synopsis:
It was May of 1944 when Hungarian Jewish Doctor Miklós Nyiszli, together with his wife, fifteen-year-old daughter, younger sister and aged parents, were first lumbered into locked cattle cars and transported to the largest extermination facility in Nazi Germany - Auschwitz. Located near the German-Polish border in Eastern Upper Silesia, near to the town of Oswiecim, as Nyiszli was soon to learn, the primary purpose of this vast complex of camps was for the mass extermination of Jews.

Upon arriving at Auschwitz, Miklós found himself being instantly separated from his family. Whilst ninety-percent of the new arrivals were directed down a left-hand path, Miklós found himself being selected to join the remaining ten-percent along a right-hand path. A decision that was made by the chief physician of Auschwitz concentration camp, Dr Josef Mengele, as he met with the new arrivals.

Shortly after arriving, Miklós along with all of the other new inmates were stripped, scrubbed with calcium chloride, provided with a set of prisoner's burlaps to wear and then tattooed on their arm with blue ink, inscribing their new identification number. Dr Miklós Nyiszli was now merely KZ prisoner Number A 8450.

Soon after his arrival, Miklós Nyiszli found himself ordered into a line, with those that had any experience with pathology told to make themselves known. Having a strong background in such a field, Nyiszli stepped forward - a snap decision that would vastly alter the course and extent of his life from then on. A move that put him into the sights of Dr Mengele - the notorious 'criminal doctor'.

After having proven his knowledge and ability in pathology, Mengele instantly recruited Nyiszli s into the ranks of the latest set of Sonderkommando's, where he would assist the SS with their many ruthless experiments and day-to-day autopsies. Being a member of the Sonderkommando, Miklós could only expect to live for a mere four months before he and the rest of the specially selected prisoners were liquidated due to their increasing knowledge of the Quarantine Camp.

However, as Nyiszli took to his new role, dissecting victims on a daily basis for the criminal doctor, the pathologist prisoner was allowed a unique and unusually unrestricted view of life and more importantly, the vast deaths within the barbed-wire confines of the extermination camp. And over time, as Nyiszli proved to Mengele his abilities and worth in KZ, a strange relationship grew between the two men. One that allowed and entrusted Nyiszli with free reign of much of Auschwitz's extermination camp, including daily rounds of the four vast crematoriums. And here, over the ensuing months, Nyiszli witnessed horrors like none other, performed under the cruel rule of a criminal doctor and a Führer with a deeply evil ideology.

The vast funeral pyre's burned night and day, as the thousands upon thousands of prisoners were brought to their death, day in, day out. Life in Auschwitz was beyond tough. And death was brought upon the prisoners with far too much ease. And Nyiszli saw it all...

DLS Review:
Okay, so the first thing I need to point out about Dr Miklós Nyiszli's memoir is that it's not an easy read. Although well-written and expertly translated, the account that is documented in the book's pages is difficult to digest due to the sheer magnitude of the truly horrendous atrocities performed in the vast extermination camp. Due to Nyiszli's unique position afforded to him during his time in the Nazi complex, the book provides the reader with such a detailed and involved insight, that what follows is nothing short of utterly harrowing.

To think that what you are reading actually took place, that only a handful of decades back in our history, mankind could enact such utter cruelty, in such vast proportions, sickens the reader to the very core. It's hard to take in such a veritable nightmare; to understand and accept such unbelievable acts of cruelty upon your fellow man. The account, covering just 162 pages, claws deep into your conscious mind, and makes you feel almost inhuman to know that this is something that your own kind is capable of - and worse still, was actually performed over such a god-awful length of time.

From the very outset, the reader is thrust into the confusion and disorientation of Dr Miklós Nyiszli's introduction to the extermination camp. His arrival, alongside so many thousands of others, is one that smacks you in the face with sheer unadulterated vicious cruelty. Even after just a handful of pages have gone by, you feel trapped in the horrors of the complex, with nowhere to escape to and death and suffering surrounding you eveywhere.

Although written from a very factual and in some ways an oddly removed perspective, the account nevertheless fills the reader with an incredibly disturbing vision of what went on within that barbed-wire enclosed facility. Each page details such shocking levels of suffering and barbaric ruling over the innocent prisoners; the stark and painfully vivid depictions depict an environment that can barely be accepted. However, as we know through much evidence and historical documentation, what Dr Miklós Nyiszli tells us of his time there is horrifyingly true.

The book reads with such unreserved honesty and compassion within a very troubled hindsight. Nyiszli was a man who was able to actually live for much longer than most, still as a prisoner, but nevertheless in a capacity that allowed him to later write such a memoir that detailed so much of what went on in Auschwitz. It's an account that manages to show an all-too-real hell, which from the comfort of our modern-day lives can be followed as his days passed, one after the other, amongst such unimaginable horror.

It's not a book that anyone will enjoy reading. It's one that is not overly buried in facts and figures or historical intricacies, but it is one that truly reflects what life for one particular Hungarian Jew was like in Auschwitz. Due to his (however unwanted) role in the extermination camp, Nyiszli brings to the page an account that shows the reader what so many hundreds of thousands went through there. It's an account that needed to be provided to the world. A memoir that is as important as it is disturbing. But it is nevertheless one that should be read and understood for what it is. So that hopefully, nothing even remotely like this, will ever take place again.

The later, more recent edition contains a forward by the academic and historian Richard J Evans which details much of the historical accuracy and importance of Dr Miklós Nyiszli's memoir. The book also contains an Afterword by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim who spent time in the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. Bettelheim's Afterword was originally written and published as the book's Forward, but has since been moved to that of the Afterword to incorporate Richard J Evans' more recent addition.

The book runs for a total of 195 pages of which Richard J. Evans's Introduction covers 22 pages, Miklós Nyiszli's memoir runs for 162 pages, and Bruno Bettelheim's Afterword (originally published as an introduction) lasts for 11 pages.
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VINE VOICEon 11 May 2013
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A lot of books and films show us the holocaust from the outside -- from the victims' perspective. While Miklos Nyiszli was to an extent a victim of the Nazis, his profession of doctor saved him from Auschwitz's infamous four crematoria, which sit at the centre of this memoir, and gave him access to the inside of the Nazi regime, for whom he worked performing autopsies and experiments. As such, this is the holocaust shown from the inside.
Nyiszli shows us that not only were the victims forced to live on a pretence - forgetting about their fate as the only way of coping; wilfully ignoring the fate that the crematoria held in store for them (Nyiszli wrote: "It was absolutely necessary to forget if we wanted to keep from going mad") - but that the perpetrators did exactly the same. They convinced themselves that their work was contributing to medical advances, that it served some kind of moral purpose. And when they couldn't live within this pretence, they numbed their minds with whiskey.
Terrible as it is to say it, the fact of the atrocities that the Germans committed is somehow not the most shocking thing about what happens in this book. What astounds more is how human beings convinced themselves of the necessity of what they were doing, and acted the atrocities out as a routine activity over a sustained period. What is most shocking is what happened to the perpetrators to enable them to commit these acts.
Nyiszli's book gets somewhere towards unpicking this, for it seems that the perpetrators and victims passed a point of no return, where the holocaust going on around them robbed life of any meaning it could have. And as the war went on and it became increasingly evident to the Nazis that they would not win, the question he asks of the victims stands out as one that the perpetrators would have begun to ask of themselves: "What is life worth, even if, by some strange miracle, we should manage to remain alive?" He also goes on to say that escaping the camp would free him physically, but that it could never free him from "my bloody past, nor from the deep-rooted grief that filled my mind and gnawed at my sanity". The same would have been true of the perpetrators, and while one cannot defend in any way what they did, this book, through Nyiszli's fate as both victim and accomplice, it is evident that the Nazis' foot soldiers were also the Nazis' victims.
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VINE VOICEon 16 February 2013
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I have read several autobiographical accounts of concentration camps and other such methods of destruction employed by Nazi Germany, and this is by far the most harrowing, and the best. Whilst coming in at a minimalist 170-odd pages, each and every event packs a strong, emotive punch and really is deserving of the title 'modern classic'.

I suppose what is most remarkable about 'Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account' is the author - Miklos Nyiszli. Written in a reportive, engaging style, the doctor tells of all he saw without censor in full detail. The author is not necessarily a good man, and I doubt anyone would say he was a hero; he helped the Nazis in order to prolong his own life, watching hundreds of thousands of Jews go to their death and doing nothing about it. At least that's one view. Or was he perhaps just doing what any human would do, trying to preserve his life and taking any opportunity he could to save others, even if that wasn't very frequent. The book doesn't come down on one side or the other, Nyiszli leaves it up to the reader to decide. This is a brave decision, as it is by no means clear cut, but on balance I tend to believe that his reaction was as I would do in the same situation.

Despite claiming at the beginning to be the account of a doctor, written as a scientific report, emotion does get a good look in and the piece is all the better for it. Whilst some elements are described in cold hard facts which really bang the truth home, the effect of what he and others witness in their time at the camps have an incredibly moving element to them. I really can't fault the writing style in any way, and I certainly feel a lot more educated to have had the privilege of reading a true modern classic.
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