The story of a father and son who struggled to survive in some of the Holocaust’s most horrendous sites, from Buchenwald to Auschwitz to Mauthausen to Bergen-Belsen.
Dronfield (The Locust Farm, 2013, etc.), a biographer, historian, and ghostwriter who also writes fiction, returns with a thoroughly researched, deeply grim account of the Kleinmanns, a Viennese family devastated by the Holocaust. Although his principal focus is on the father, Gustav, and son, Fritz, the author does occasionally shift to others, some of whom did not survive. The title image—the stone crusher—is a mechanical device in a stone quarry at Buchenwald, and Dronfield employs it as a metaphor for the entire Holocaust—it is among the book’s final images. The Kleinmanns, father and son, were able to cope with the unspeakable rigors of the concentration camps because they possessed manual skills that the Nazis required and employed. Gustav was an upholsterer, and Fritz, quick and able with his hands, learned to lay bricks and perform other tasks the camps needed. One of the most moving aspects of the book is the relationship between Fritz and his father; both struggled mightily to stay together, and neither was interested in abandoning the other. Dronfield also does an effective job keeping us informed about the wider war so that when the liberators approach, we are prepared. The author uses the father’s diary as a key document, but, as the endmatter demonstrates, he has consulted the principal Holocaust archives and documents and conducted interviews as well. The resulting swift, novelistic narrative clarifies the brutality in ways that traditional histories sometimes do not.
Today, when studies are showing many Americans know little about the Holocaust, this will serve as a compelling remedy: a personal and universal account of brutality at its worst and of family devotion at its best.