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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A powerful memoir. I was incredibly moved by the experiences of Otto Dov Kulka who, as a child, survived life in Auschwitz and who now, at 80, has given the world his personal memories as testament to those times. The child reaches out from these pages and the years drop away. You find yourself hand in hand with the ten year old Otto and his honesty and clarity are powerfully emotional things.

I'm not going to go into detail about the horror of the camps and instead would rather focus on the strength of the human spirit crying out behind each and every word. At times there's an almost spiritual beauty here that transcends the barbarity.....although, obviously, could never excuse it.

The use of illustrations adds emotional texture while black and white photographs remind us of the stark reality. Much thought has gone into the presentation of the book which has been carefully and gently created to house such an important work.

I have only one thing to add - read the book - it's important we remember.
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on 20 April 2014
Kulka is an academic historian from Israel. As a young teenager he was deported with his family, first to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz, where he was one of a small minority of deportees in a show camp created by the Nazis to deceive inspectors from the International Red Cross. He survived the destruction of this show camp and a successor, and the march that followed the abandonment of Auschwitz. He lost his mother and a newborn sibling before the end of the war, and he testified at war crimes trials.

In this book Kulka writes down his most significant memories from that time, exploring their role in forming his subsequent life as a scholar in the humanist tradition. He also investigates his discomfort in relating to some mainstream holocaust narratives with which, as a survivor and historian, he is frequently brought into contact.

Kulka writes of his own experiences and emotions with a remove and skepticism which won my trust. Don't read this book if you are expecting to be scandalized by brutality and suffering, or impassioned by 'Never again's, or exhilirated by the triumph of survival against the odds, it will probably be a disappointment.

Read it instead for something rarer: that the author has distilled their true experience from the public mythology which persistently encroaches on it, and shared the process of doing so with the reader in a most fascinating and skillful way.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It is quite hard to know what to say about a book which defies categorisation. Certainly it is not a camp memoir in anything like the conventional sense, ('I am probing the memory, not writing memoirs'), rather a meditation on the ways the traumatic experience of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz shaped the thinking and psychological life of one whose profession (academic historian) demands a critical separation of the personal from the past.

The book is essentially a collection of short reflections, sombre musings which are utterly devoid of self-pity. Some of these relate to visits to the camps where the author was imprisoned as a child; others explore dreams from later years, or memories of events and characters in the camp, such as Imre, the conductor of the children's choir and his training of the children in the seemingly paradoxical choice of 'the Ode to Joy'. Yet in all these musings, the point is not so much the events referred to, as what memory has made of them and what that tells the author about himself.

I am in danger of making this sound like an intellectual puzzle or indulgence, which it most certainly isn't. It's a remarkable book which lingers in my memory far longer than its slight dimensions would suggest. Read it!

Postscript: reading Kulka's book prompted me to turn again to Anselm Kiefer / Paul Celan: Myth, Mourning and Memory. The price is prohibitive, but the book is well worth searching out in a public library and resonates strongly with kulka's book.
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on 17 February 2013
This is a book of excerpts from tapes the author made some years ago relating his reflections on his life as a child in a 'family camp' in Auschwitz and some excerpts also from his diaries, often recounting dreams. Finally a short article is reprinted that Duv Kulka wrote in his day-job as a historian, explaining the background to the setting up and the overnight dissolution of the family camp.

The book is prompted as much by the lasting impacts of the family camp and the more general Auschwitz experience as much as by a need to remember and record. Punishment and execution are part of the iron internal logic of the camp. The camp is also where the author learns about European culture; enjoys the beauty of the blue sky; and starts a lifetime of excelling in academic study; and can reflect on the ways in which we confront death. The author has through some irony learned to play Beethoven's Ode to Joy on a mouthorgans within sight of one of the crematoria. One of the most moving chapters reprints three poems written by a 20 year old young woman handed over to others as she is on her way to the gas chambers. Overall, though, the tone is one of reflection - this was a 'metropolis of death' whose raison d'etre was to turn human beings into smoke and ashes.
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VINE VOICEon 12 August 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Historical facts, or cultural exploration of this period are not the meat of the book, indeed the author feels somewhat alienated from it (some facts of the period are is contained in the short appendix). This is a spontaneous narrative that comes from the soul, the recollection of the author's deep inner experiences of his childhood spent at Auschwitz.

The spontaneity of the text provides powerful credibility, the narrative flowing as he speaks. This results in an intense immediacy and presence. The paucity of emotional words in his descriptions is particularly stark. The author provides the palette; it is up to the readers to determine their own emotional reaction.

It is as if Otto Dov Kulka has the ability of a dispassionate journalist describing events in simple, almost objective ways. This intensifies the horror. For instance, his account of the public beating to death of an inmate chosen at random from the camp, with the ensuing torture by the SS officers "game of sticks", another the recollection of his own need to force himself to watch the public hanging of 4 Russian inmates.

Very few writings deserve a 5 star rating from the outset without little deliberation of thought. This is such a work.
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on 17 March 2013
A really interesting, and welcome, addition to Holocaust literature. Through the darkness and horror of those times Kulka captures what it was like to arrive in Auschwitz as a 10-year old child. Grappling with that concept, and only facing up to it many, many years later, makes this a really important contribution to our understanding of these times. The image of the 'Ode to Joy' being sung within sight of the crematoria, and his concern over the fact that his mother never looked back at him as she marched away to her death are two, among many, scenarios that will chill the readers of this short work.
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on 1 April 2013
A truly memorable book. Heartbreaking, as you might expect from a survivor's account, but poetic and beyond the personal. The writer revisits physically and metaphysically the dreamscapes of death which he inhabited in his childhood yet continues to inhabit today, and the reader is given a whisper of understanding as to what the write's experiences were and are: that we are all plugged in to and cannot escape for ever, the Great Death.
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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A book that opens with a Kafka quote is always heading for the hills in range, and to the valleys in depth and grit. This is a haunting read.

Possibly one of the most remarkable testimonies to life experience. Here's deeply moving recollections of boyhood years in Auschwitz, interwoven with reflections offered in an ethereal poetic quality, vividly convey the horror of the edge of death, the trauma of family and friends, and the indelible imprint left on the memory of a young life. Here's hoping it's not bludgeoned in a movie-remake in the years up ahead.

Here is beautiful light in the face of much darkness. This is a book beyond comprehension, in it's shock, dread and humility. A beautiful narrative of inhumanity.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It is difficult to know what to say about this book and how to describe it. The author and his family were prisoners in the 'family camp' at Auschwitz-Birkenau until it was dismantled. Against all the odds both Otto Kulka and his father survived the war, and even his mother got out of Auschwitz and escaped from another work camp only to perish of disease before the end of the war. Whilst the book reflects on Kulka's memories of the camp, it is far from a conventional camp memoir. Kulka's experience of Auschwitz was different from that of most prisoners: his group in the 'family camp' were, at least for a while, afforded living conditions very different to the other prisoners, part of a cynical Nazi PR exercise. Even when the family camp was liquidated he 'cheats' the crematorium.

In describing his childhood experiences and how he reacted, we are seeing this through eyes of child who knew what was happening yet still retained childhood innocence. Kulka reflects on some of his strongest memories from his time in the camp - the happy memory of an aeroplane and bright blue sky although one suspects that this may have been a way of distancing himself from the horror around him. Then there is the choir singing 'Ode to Joy' within a few hundred yards of the crematoria: was this another attempt to avoid the horror or was it a protest by the choirmaster? Many years later Kulka tries (but fails) to slay the demon of the walk to the gas chamber that he didn't take, but which his childhood friends did, by descending the steps of the destroyed gas chamber.

This isn't an easy read, although not because of the subject matter itself. It is almost as if the author is thinking as he goes along, stopping & starting, distracted by another memory. Most of the book is based on tape recordings that Kulka made over a period of several years which also explains the slightly disjointed narrative. I suspect that the translation, initially from Hebrew into German, and then into English has contributed to this sense of faltering thought. There is a very clear difference in tone & style in the appendix dealing with the reasons for the creation and later liquidation of the family camp where the sense of Kulka the historian comes through. Overall, a disturbing read that warranted the focus and contemplation that it requires.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 December 2013
The author of 'Landscapes...', now a distinguished eighty-year-old historian, was a child inmate of Auschwitz-Birkenau from September 1943. His parents were also imprisoned there: his father survived; his mother did not. 'Landscapes...' is the record of his attempt to come to terms with his experience, which has pursued him through waking and dreaming for nearly seventy years.

Kulka subsequently revisited Auschwitz, but until recently had rigorously segregated his personal experience from his professional work as an historian of the Holocaust. Reading 'Landscapes...' one can see why. Compiled in sections over a long period of time, and drawing together taped personal reflections, diary entries, accounts of dreams, the poems of others, and a brief academic article, this is less a unified text than the shattered record of repeated attempts to grasp the ungraspable. The accompanying photographs, for the most part, speak most eloquently of what they cannot represent.

Nonetheless, by organising his disparate texts around the recurring image of Auschwitz as a 'Metropolis of Death' whose law cannot be escaped even when it lies in literal ruins, Kulka - for whom Kafka's paradoxical 'Before the Law' is a touchstone - has produced a powerful and personal testament that goes well beyond a simple account of the facts.
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