“Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp," by Christopher R. Browning, W.W. Norton & Company, 375, $17.95 (nf)
“Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp” is the story of nearly 300 survivors of a Nazi labor camp in Poland during the later parts of World War II as told through their memories.
The story of the Starachowice camps are much different than the stories of the so-called more familiar “extermination camps." The purpose of these camps was not to kill as many Jews as rapidly as possible, like the camp at Treblinka was designed for, but rather to have the prisoners work in the munitions and steel factories in the surrounding area to supply the Nazis with weapons and other necessities.
"Most Wierzbnikers made the same calculation as those who were flocking to the Starachowice factories from elsewhere — namely, that the best chance for survival lay in obtaining employment crucial to the German war industry."
Wierzbnik Starachowice is in Central Poland, approximately 95 miles south of Warsaw. At the time the German army invaded Poland, there were about 3,000 Jewish people living in the area. The population steadily grew during the next few years, but in the fall of 1942, the Nazis began to deport and imprison the Jewish residents.
The book does a magnificent job of detailing life before deportation and the hardships faced after they were rescued and released from their camps, but the book focuses on the treatment of the prisoners and the ways that they were able to survive their ordeals.
The survivor accounts include day-to-day life in the camp and the typhus epidemic that broke out in the fall and winter of 1942, which ultimately led to some of the most disturbing descriptions of Nazi cruelty in the entire book. These massacres escalated as the one leader “became obsessed with identifying and eliminating those prisoners who were temporarily incapacitated by the disease and desperately trying to hide their affliction (he) would arrive in camp at night and order all the prisoners out of the barracks. Those who could not get out of bed were then shot.”
Many other experiences are describe in the book after the massacres, including the post-war trials that the survivors participated in. While it almost felt hollow to hear about the trials of criminals in relation to the pre-meditated killings, it was also a good way to wrap up the story and try to give some amount of closure to the survivors.
While "Remembering Survival" is a great book for anyone that is interested in World War II and especially Holocaust history, it may not be for everyone, especially younger readers, due to the nature of the camps and gruesome details of the stories.
Landon Walters is a history and political science major currently studying at Salt Lake Community College. He can be reached at [email protected]