RETURN TO AUSCHWITZ by Kitty Hart

RETURN TO AUSCHWITZ

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There is no shortage of testimony on the Holocaust. But like the shattering documentary-film of the same name, Hart's memoir is unique: as an unflinchingly precise record of the day-to-day deathcamp existence; and as an unsentimental, grimly inspiring demonstration of the will to survive--without grand heroics or utter degradation. Hart begins, affectingly, with her 1946 arrival in England as a 19-year-old DP--wearing the cutdown coat of an SS woman whom she'd helped to capture, finding little help from the Jewish community, adjusting poorly to ""manners and mannerisms,"" aggressively carving out a career for herself as a radiology technician. Next she shifts to her 1978 decision to respond to the Holocaust-Never-Happened propaganda, to return and testify: ""Auschwitz was there . . . I know, because I was there, waiting my turn which never came."" And then, in this resonant frame, comes the story itself. Daughter of a lawyer/businessman in southern Poland, athletic Kitty was 13 in 1939; when German soldiers arrived, the family fled, living on the run; finally, desperate, Kitty's father secured fake Polish papers for wife and daughter--and persuaded them to go to Germany (!), along with a batch of non-Jewish Poles destined for factory work. Once there, however, this ruse was discovered. And, after a ""dancing lesson"" (mock firing squad), Kitty and her mother were on a train: ""We didn't know much about the work camps, but it couldn't be all that dreadful, this Auschwitz place."" Yet soon, of course, Kitty is capturing the unimaginable dreadfulness of Auschwitz with uncommon, level-toned objectivity. The smells, the ubiquitous corpses, the diarrhea, the labor, the selections for the ovens, the scramble to steal, buy, barter (""organize"") bits of bread or clothing, the key to survival: ""to be somewhere else. . . to be invisible."" Kitty herself refused to play the ""foul game"" of collaboration. But she tried her best to shut out the screams, to ""never obey,"" to get more livable work-shifts, to single-mindedly keep herself and her mother alive. Only once--when she was forced to load victims (friends) into an incinerator-bound lorry--did she give into the death-wish. . . but was saved (as she was on two other occasions) by her remarkable mother. . . . Hart tells it all with a crisp, no-nonsense tone that only increases the horror.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum