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A fictional account of the daily routines inside the death camp at Treblinka, narrated in chilling straight-faced prose by MacMillan (Orbit of Darkness, 1991, etc.). The Nazi massacres of WWII have by now been so well documented that it’s not difficult for authors to drape a semifictional narrative around them, like a cloak around a tortured moral mannikin. Still, MacMillan succeeds in giving texture as well as shape to certain of the events of the Holocaust years as, through deft portrayals of a handful of Treblinka inmates, he brings readers inside the confines of a thoroughly self-contained world. We meet Joachim Voss, for instance, the cynical SS officer whose intellectual wife disdains the Nazis but rationalizes Joachim’s involvement with them once she begins to receive his share of the prisoners” looted goods; Magda Nowak, a local farm girl whose father pimps her to the guards; Anatoly Yovenko, a Ukrainian kapo who falls in love with Magda and plots an escape; Janus Siedlicki, a teenaged Jew who survives as a “dentist” by extracting gold teeth from the corpses; and Dr. Herzenberg, who becomes the center of a secret group of prisoners intent on overthrowing their captors and liberating the camp. The Treblinka uprising, though quickly suppressed, did in fact lead eventually to the camp’s closing. MacMillan’s stoically spare style (—When it became clear that they were not going to revive Choronzycki he began to beat him with the thicker end of a whip, so that the loud thumps, some of which caused the corpse to cough flatly, resounded off the low buildings—) is suited to the appalling events he portrays, his emotional restraint serving to dramatize without falsifying the vile story he tells. A sober account of an incomprehensibly evil episode from modern history: MacMillan has established himself as one of the surer guides through the Nazi genocide.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1999
ISBN: 1-883642-84-1
Page count: 257pp
Publisher: Steerforth
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999