A horrifying yet inspiring story of a young man’s life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
Eisen was living in Czechoslovakia when the Nazis began their sweep across Europe. He points out that many did not believe that the roundup would include them, but, of course, it eventually did. He spends some 50 pages discussing his pre-Holocaust life—school, summers working on a farm—and then tells about his family’s arrest, the train to Auschwitz, and the “cruelty of the SS guards.” Those familiar with the vile history of the camp will recognize the routines and indignities (and worse) that the author and his family experienced. Eventually, all of his family members were “selected” for murder, and he records his sad farewell with his father, who implored him to tell the story. As the war wound down, the prisoners were moved, occasioning yet more unspeakable horrors, including some starving, desperate prisoners’ resorting to cannibalism. Eisen had just turned 16 when the Americans liberated the camp. In the final third of the book, the author deals with the immediate post-Holocaust years: his struggles to get back to his town and decision to leave, the kindness (and unkindness) of strangers, his re-arrest by the communists, his fortunate release from prison, and the complicated and highly risky decision to leave Europe for Canada. Eisen subsequently married, had a family, found a career in bookbinding, and, in 1988, began speaking frequently about the Holocaust to a wide variety of groups. His research has taken him back to Auschwitz numerous times. He acknowledges at the outset that he cannot, of course, remember everything that happened in 1944, but, as readers will quickly discover, so much of what happened to him resides firmly in the category of unforgettable.
More gruesome evidence of what we will do to one another; more sanguine evidence of the determination to remain human.