Holocaust Memorial Day – Recommended Reading

As it’s Holocacust Memorial Day, I thought I would share with you a couple of books which I would recommend reading. In fact, I think they are books which everyone should read at some point in life. Both books are by survivors of Auschwitz (yet neither were Jewish) and both brought me to tears.

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Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz by Olga Lengyel

Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor's True Story of AuschwitzFive Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz by Olga Lengyel is not a book for the faint-hearted and it is certainly moving. However, I think it’s a book everyone should read if only to remind people of what really happened and so that the attrocities don’t happen again.

Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz is just that… Olga’s true story about what happened at Auschwitz. She was there and this book was written shortly after, so it was all very much fresh in her mind (not that I think those memories would have ever left her).

This book wasn’t the easiest book to read, due to it’s subject matter, and it had me in tears by the end of the first chapter. I had to put the book down half way through the next chapter too, that’s how moving I found it. Olga unknowingly sent her mother and eldest son to the gas chambers along with her youngest son. She had thought she was saving them from hard work, not knowing what would actually happen. She must have felt such guilt, despite it not being her fault. After all, who could have believed that human beings were capable of such attrocities on such a mass scale.

This book is Olga’s personal story, but she has also tried to include any detail she could remember and the stories of other people she met in the camp.

I did history in school and we learnt of what happened during World War 2, but that barely touched on what these poor people experienced.

If there’s one book you should read in your life, then I think it should be this one. It’s not an easy read, emotionally, but it’s certainly unforgettable.

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The Auschwitz Goalkeeper: A Prisoner of War’s True Story by Ron Jones with Joe Lovejoy

The Auschwitz GoalkeeperThe Auschwitz Goalkeeper is a prisoner of war’s true story.

It is the story of a man who endured the horrors of the most notorious death camp of them all, before being brutally forced to march across Europe as the SS retreated before the advancing Russians.

This is no sanitised, boys’-own adventure. Indeed, it is a book which gives the lie to the self-glorifying claims of some of Ron Jones’s fellow British POWs at Auschwitz:

“I have chosen to speak out 70 years after the event because I am concerned by other accounts which focus on personal heroism and downgrade the conduct of honest, less fanciful prisoners.”

It is this sense of outrage that has prompted a 96-year-old man to set the record straight, once and for all:

“It is my intention to tell it exactly as it was. The fact that British POWs ended up in Auschwitz needs no embroidery and receives none here… It was a truly terrible time, and I witnessed things I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to see.”

This isn’t just the story of Ron’s time in Auschwitz, he also tells us of what his life in Wales was like before and after this terrible time.

Ron’s poignant story is added to with testimonies and quotes from fellow prisoners of war. Joe Lovejoy has also completed Ron’s story with facts, figures and other Auschwitz research to give us an overall feel of what happened in the hell that was Auschwitz and its aftermath.

Before reading this book, I had been totally oblivious to the fact that giant companies were working and treating POWs and Jews like slaves. The Jews who survived being selected for the gas chambers would instead be worked to death, the Nazi’s were hiring out both POWs and Jews to companies such as IG Farben for slave labour. Ultimately, the path for the Jews led to the gas chambers, whether they went straight there or worked until they fell.

Ron Jones recognises that the POWs had it far easier than the Jews, but still… the POWs didn’t know if they would be exterminated next, imagine fearing that day in and day out, and then there were the death marches across Europe as the Red Army advanced on Auschwitz and the other concentration camps.

What makes Ron’s harrowing story even more awful is that Ron should never have been on the battlefield in the first place, let alone in a POW camp. Ron was in what was regarded as a ‘reserved occupation’, but a simple error sent him into the battlefield and into the hands of the Nazis. That simple error changed Ron’s life and could have seen him lose it.

Ron’s story might be harrowing and compelling, but it is not self-glorifying. Ron has simply told his story as it was. Ron also questions the stories of other survivors and whether some events really could have taken place. He hasn’t made himself out to be a hero, but a man that has endured what he has and survived to tell the tale, must still be someone special.

So what makes this prisoner of war story different to others? At 96 years old, Ron Jones wants to set the record straight once and for all and before it’s too late. I wasn’t there (Thank God!), so I can only take Ron and other POWs at their word, but Ron’s story isn’t fanciful and there’s no obvious exaggeration. Ron has simply told it how it was. Nevertheless, Ron’s story should be read and, with Joe Lovejoy’s help, I’ve certainly learned a thing or two from reading it.

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Are there any Holocaust related books you’d recommend we read?

(*Both of these books featured on my previous blog).

10 comments

  1. Kelly says:

    My husband and I were just discussing the Holocaust yesterday, commenting how we find it incredible that there are actually those who believe event never happened! I remember in my junior high school history class being shown large photographs from the death camps, showing all the emaciated prisoners and the piles of corpses. The images were imprinted in my brain and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. I don’t know that they teach children much about it anymore, which is a shame.

    Difficult reading, I know… but I may have to check out that first book more closely.

  2. Hi Nikki,

    Like yourself and Kelly, I ‘studied’ the holocaust as part of my school history examinations. Although as you both comment, it really was only a very superficial journey through what was surely the greatest war crime of modern history.

    When we try to have events in more modern conflicts classified as war crimes, we really do forget about the holocaust, when we should try and get things into context, in relation to what is a war crime and what is really a consequence of war … there really is a massive difference!

    I’m not sure that I would be able to read holocaust accounts today, although perhaps now is the time, when my adult eyes may see events in a completely new way to those of a school girl and as you say Kelly, before modern conflict zones replace events of previous wars and consign them to realms of history forever.

    A very thought provoking post Nikki ..

    Yvonne

  3. Leta says:

    I will need to read one of these for sure. I haven’t read any books about Holocaust. I mean, I read Annie Frank, but who didn’t? And I also read about Nazi concentration camp Stutthof by Balys Sruoga (“Forest of the Gods”). It was such an eye-opening book about all the horrors that happened in there, there were also few places where he talked about Jewish people as well.

    -Leta | The Nerdy Me

  4. Jo says:

    I haven’t read any books about the Holocaust except for Anne Frank’s diary, I think I’d definitely find these books too upsetting. I can’t understand why people would question if the Holocaust actually took place when there’s people baring their souls in books like this.

  5. I am ashamed to say I haven’t read anything about the Holocaust for many years now and I’m drawn to Five Chimneys. Although the history lessons (both at home and school) moved me, I think the true horror comes when you are a little older and able to put this atrocity into a whole world perspective. Great post

  6. Tracy Terry says:

    Something we should never forget. I’m so, so saddened by certain recent events and especially those calling for refugees to be identified by the wearing of a band.

    Having visited Auschwitz, I think it is something everyone should do if given the opportunity.

  7. When I was about eleven I remember seeing photos of the Holocaust in a book that belonged to my parents: they told me I shouldn’t have looked but those images have always stayed with me. I think people need to be aware of what happened. Thanks for previewing these two books.

  8. Corinne says:

    I love reading and watching documentaries about the holocaust, although it’s such a distressing and saddening thing to have happened. I can’t believe anyone would do that to all of those people. I can’t imagine the mentality behind it all.

    Corinne x

  9. rashbre says:

    There’s another book called ‘Voices from the Ground’ which is about Auschwitz. It’s intense, with an opening narrative and then the majority of the book contains photographs. There’s terrible scenes from the camps, the shudder-inducing Nazi/SS paperwork documenting the mass murders and some pictures of the sit as it stands nowadays.

    Our daughter brought it back from her visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum (i.e. at Auschwitz), which she attended as part of a school visit.

    I haven’t visited there, but I did visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

    A particularly powerful exhibit there was/is Daniel’s story, which describes the life of a small Jewish boy in Germany during the build up to and during WW II. It starts with a walk into a pleasant childhood and then progressively turns into a trail of tears.

    There’s a link to an A/V virtual tour here:

    http://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/museum-exhibitions/remember-the-children-daniels-story/video

  10. I read “Night” by Elie Wiesel. I’m not certain I am able to read another holocaust book, particularly the way you describe them. I read the novel “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink. That brought tears, but it was a watered-down novel with the holocaust as it’s theme. I very much recommend it, if you like that sort of thing.

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