A debut biography of a Holocaust survivor delivers a detailed tribute to a remarkable individual.
In her acknowledgements, the author states candidly: “an evaluator by profession, I occasionally longed to write a book about someone’s life rather than an evaluation of someone’s program.” Despite meeting Ferdinand “Fred” Fragner only twice, Sloan felt that his story “cried out to be told and remembered.” Fred was born in 1915 in Nový Ji čín, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in the Czech Republic. The son of a diamond cutter, he was raised in a prosperous family, until tragically orphaned at age 14. He then became a street urchin, honing skills that would later prove vital in the face of Nazi oppression. Miraculously, he completed his education and enrolled in Charles University in Prague, beginning a dissertation on clinical psychology. During this time, Hitler started annexing Czechoslovakia. Forever courageous, Fred joined an underground movement drilled to disrupt Nazi military activity. After three years, he was shot, captured, and shipped to Buchenwald. His five years at the Nazi concentration camp is a deeply affecting recollection of “humans doing inhuman things.” He speaks of a 16-year-old boy forced to hang his parents, and of his own best friend being shot randomly by an SS officer, an event that evoked lifelong nightmares. The author’s admiration for her subject is palpable throughout, to the extent that it is possible to imagine her lovingly transcribing Fred’s video and audio interviews. His voice always remains central, delivering many timely messages: “There is much hatred because people haven’t yet learned how to respect each other, how to love each other sometimes in spite of each other, to respect [each other’s] rights, to respect differences and respect and find ways of resolving troubles in talking with each other.” This tender biography’s scholarly credibility wavers at times when the author draws information from Wikipedia or TV documentaries such as Histories of the Holocaust, sources that hold little weight in a serious intellectual context. There is also a tendency to repeat information unnecessarily, such as Fred speaking “fluent German.” These are perhaps forgivable slip-ups for a new writer that could be rectified by a thorough edit. Still, this remains a well-written and thoroughly researched volume that should prove an important addition to the Holocaust canon.
A book about a former Buchenwald inmate that offers a powerful treatise on inner strength.