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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 7 August 2004
How did it happen? Your emotions run wild when you read this book. How this woman survived is amazing. The courage and determination comes out in every page. I had to put this book down quite a few times to wipe away the tears. My own little problems are certainly put into perspective now.
This book is brilliant but horrifying to know that it is true, and the end chapter, when you think the worst has happened, knocks you back. How did it happen and why?????
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on 4 May 1999
A realistic of the author's life and consience told in stark and unrelenting detail. The pangs of guilt as she persuades her Mother and son to join the ranks of the old and very young during the selection, believing them protected from brutal work only to make the shocking later discovery - their line led to death. The moral question of delivering live babies in camp - where a Mother was spared death only if the baby was declared stillborn. If not, both met their end immediately. Told with a calm sincerity. Memorable! A book worth reading- and reading again.
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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.
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on 8 July 2011
This book literally left me feeling winded and slightly bewildered. I have read several books on the holocaust, but this one has upset me the most. This is not a book for the faint hearted as Olga describes many vulgar scenes in absolute details. Part of me wishes I had not read the book, as my utter disgust at what the Nazis did is eating away at me. The things they did to millions of innocent humans including babies and children is heartbreaking. To me the story felt fictional all the way through, I dont think I could allow my brain to believe this was real horror as oppose to made up horror. The suffering that is described in this book completely defies belief. I do urge you not to read the book if you suffer from nightmares or cannot take hearing horrors of war-it doesnt get any worse than this. To think Olga survived is unbelievable, my personal self I would not have wanted to survive after losing my entire family and having gone through what she did. A strong lady. My only criticism (which i will probably get crisiticsed for heavily) is that she followed Nazi orders which resulted in the death of children and women. Easy for me to sit on my soap box and say under no circumstances would I have aided the death of any of these innocent victims. A must read so you can make up your own mind. Thank god that the majority of us live in a civilized society and god rest the millions of jews and others that were killed in such horrific ways. Rest in Peace xxxx
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on 31 August 1998
Olga Lengyel has paid the highest price for the information she gives us all in Five Chimneys. She was Auschwitz - Birkenau. What was her crime? Indeed, what was anyone's crime, to have one's life taken away from them and labelled an Enemy of the Third Reich. Her chilling testimony grips you immediately and holds your attention all the way through. Only one who was a prisoner of the infamous "Death Camps" will truly know what it was like to live the horrors shared in Five Chimneys. Everyone should read this book. Read it slowly, try to picture in your mind the sights Olga describes. Even doing so, one could never imagine the relentless fear of being 'selected' at any time without notice. No intelligent reader will feel unaffected after reading Five Chimneys. In fact one can easily see the clear message given to all of us: "All Life is Precious and none can be replaced."
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on 29 September 2003
From almost after the 1st few pages, you find yourself actually there, and interacting with the Olga, when she is frightned about whats going to happen to her and her family you can feel it too, you cry and feel her sorrow and pain. She doesn't try to soften her words to discribe the autrocities she witnessed, nor does she ask for your pity. Well worth a read
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on 30 June 2002
This is a book that will stay with me for life, it is written so you can smell what it must have been like for them all. It is the only book I have ever read that made me sob while reading. I would recommend it to anyone, it is a must read book, we must never forget what these people went through.
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on 23 June 2011
My grandmother is a decorated war hero and survivor of Ravensbruck and Auschwitz. She was not a Jew, but a Slovenian Partisan. She is the most positive and uplifting person I have ever met. She loves life with a passion and is always pointing out the beauty and good things in this world. Unfortunately she suffered a stroke 5 years ago and she can no longer speak. Before the stroke, every now and again when we spoke late into the night she would give me a small story from her experiences during the war. She would never say too much because she said she was afraid of giving me images which would be too hard to handle, and too hard for her to remember. However, the stories she told me were shocking, and she said these were nothing compared to what else happened. Alas, I will never know the rest from her own lips. Hence my quest to learn as much as possible about what life was like in the camps. I wanted to know the minutae of daily life. Olga Lengyel and my grandmother were in Auschwitz at the same time. The sights and experiences in Olgas book are what my grandmother also experienced. Thank you Olga for writing your memoir. It is horrifying, the sheer scale of destruction and hatred is beyond my comprehension. At the same time this book made me think a lot about mans capacity for great good and evil, about what is important in life and about how shallow and materialistic we can be. I have held my infant daughter a bit longer tonite when she drifted off to sleep and am so thankful we are not living through the hell those people endured. This is a brilliant record.
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on 8 October 2001
This is an amazing book and should be read by all members of your family. I have passed it onto my 17 year old son - it shows courage, determination and most of all a will to live. The horrors of camp life have been explained fully in this book and it seems hard to believe that human beings had to suffer so much. I found it upsetting yet very interesting. It made me appreciate the simple things in life which we all take for granted.
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on 7 November 1998
This book was first published in English in 1947. It presents life and death in Auschwitz in great detail, and offers an excellent overview of the concentration camp world. The author's own story is gripping and heart-wrenching. The early date, 2 years after WWII ended, ensures that the author's memories of the camp are still lucid and the details very precise. Olga Lengyel studied to be a physician, and her informed analysis of the treatment meted out to inmates make this book special. I view this book as a Holocaust Studies "benchmark" - other accounts often fall short of its quality and level of detail. It is also significant as an account of a woman's experience. Until recently, women's Holocaust experiences were a rather neglected area.
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