The harrowing story of Berg’s time in Nazi concentration camps, related with “irony, irreverence, and gallows humor” that led co-author Brock to urge him to publish it a half-century after it was written.
The pair collaborated to amplify and clarify the original manuscript, but retained the cocky voice of a French Resistance member only 18 years old when he was arrested in Nice in late 1943. On a train full of prisoners, Berg met Stella, a pretty Jewish girl with whom he snatched some stolen sex and happiness at the Drancy transit camp near Paris. There he also had the misfortune to encounter the Gestapo agent who had arrested him in Nice; the agent ordered him sent to Auschwitz. But the “shithouse luck” of his book’s title, Berg explains in his preface, meant that he “kept landing on the right side of the randomness of life.” A minor clerical error caused another Häftling (prisoner) to be hung in his stead. Berg got to carry on collecting corpses, digging trenches and cadging the occasional extra ladle of watery soup that sometimes made the difference between life and death. Like other survivors, he graphically recalls the beatings, hunger, sickness, selections, stink, despair and omnipresent death. Berg’s mechanical skill and proficiency in German, English, Italian, Spanish and a bit of Russian, in addition to his native French, contributed to his Scheisshaus luck. The young Häftling was sent to the caves of Dora, where he assembled V-1 and V-2 rockets as a slave of IG Farben. When freedom came, he was caught between the retreating Wehrmacht and the advancing, marauding Red Army. He was searching for Stella, never forgotten during his 18 months in the camps, and the randomness of life proved itself once again.
A worthy supplement to the reports of Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.