A fresh, remarkable story of Auschwitz on the 75th anniversary of its liberation.
Dune Macadam (co-author: Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz, 1995) chronicles the tale of nearly 1,000 Jewish women from Slovakia, the first women to be shipped to the German death camp. While not the majority of inmates, a majority of the Slovakian Jews were sent there. The author makes great use of her “interviews with witnesses, survivors, and families, and USC Shoah Archive testimonies.” Most readers have learned about the many shocking aspects of the camps, including slave labor and other countless deprivations, but the author shows us how every time a train pulled in, there would be a selection, for work or extermination; the same would occur at morning roll call. There was no rhyme nor reason to the selection process; it was often just a whim. Those women in this first shipment were tattooed beginning with the number 1,000, but within a year, they were numbering nearly 39,000. As Dune Macadam notes, there were some work assignments that were safer and slightly more comfortable: sewing, laundry, mail, clerical, and hospital. The most sought-after assignment was sorting the clothes of new arrivals. Often, the women would find a piece of bread or other contraband they could carefully smuggle out. One woman found a tube of diamonds. When she was caught, she claimed she was saving it for one of the Nazis in charge; she got off, and he took leave, bought a farm, and never returned. Throughout the book, readers will be consistently astounded by the strength of these women. They fought desperately to survive and supported each other, often literally holding up friends and hiding sick inmates. “My goal,” writes Dune Macadam in an author’s note, “is to build as complete a picture as I can of the girls and young women of the first ‘official’ Jewish transport to Auschwitz.” It’s not easy reading, but consider that goal achieved.
An uplifting story of the herculean strength of young girls in a staggeringly harrowing situation.