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ONLY MY LIFE by Louis de Wijze


A Survivor's Story of the Holocaust

by Louis de Wijze

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-14697-3
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

A Dutch Jew's crisply written memoir of surviving Monowitz (the huge labor camp at Auschwitz), the infamous ``death march'' from Auschwitz, and several concentration camps in Germany. Today a successful entrepreneur in the meat business, de Wijze was 19 when he was deported from the transit camp of Westerbrook to Auschwitz. He vividly describes the horrors of the Holocaust: gnawing hunger, disease, the rank smoke that emerged from the crematoria chimneys, the torture and execution of fellow prisoners, and the endless naked roll calls, sometimes in subfreezing temperature. Yet because he was young, enterprising, and just plain lucky, de Wijze also had experiences not found in most other Holocaust memoirs: Sunday soccer games between inmates that were watched by the SS, a brief homosexual ``pass'' made by another inmate, and above all, being part of a small camp smuggling ring. The latter played a key role in helping him and a few other fortunate inmates secure easier jobs (for example, feeding an SS officer's rabbits) and obtaining the food necessary for survival. The author's narrative lacks the terse drama and sense of metaphysical irony of an Elie Wiesel or Primo Levi. But de Wijze's staccato style sometimes comes close, as in this passage about the terrible January 1945 death march from Auschwitz to Germany: ``We walk for our lives. If you don't walk, you are dead. Gone is the hierarchy. To belong to the prominent is just a vague memory. It's back to zero. Everyone suffers the same way. The reaper does his work without any distinction.'' One of only five percent of Dutch Jews who survived the Holocaust, de Wijze memorably demonstrates the importance of both serendipity and daring in enduring murderous conditions.