This book, The Boy who followed his father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield, is the most harrowing, devastating and heart wrenching story I have ever read. A true account of the horrors of the Holocaust extracted from the journal of one of its victims.
The Kleinmanns were a normal hardworking Jewish Family living in Vienna at the start of the rise of Hitler’s reign of terror. The parents Gustav and Tini had a small upholstery business. Their children were Edith, Herta, Fritz and Kurz.
One night in November 1938, now known as Kristallnacht, Gustav and Fritz, aged 16, were betrayed by their non- Jewish neighbours and arrested. Due to Gustav’s war record and Fritz’s young age they were later released and returned home.
A year later in October they were arrested again and this time they were both sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. It was here that their nightmare six year journey started. For a while the rest of the family was left alone. Tini arranged for Kurz to got to the US and Edith to England. Both married and had families and Edith joined Kurz in America.
Sadly, Tini and Herta were arrested and transported to the East. They were never heard of again.
It was at the start of his stay in Buchenwald that Gustav started his journal. Amazingly he kept his journal until the end of the War. Through the starvation of the next five years Gustav got his inspiration from Ghandi. His approach was a passive cooperative stance. Fritz on the other hand used his youth, wits and fiery nature to see him through. Both were subjected to torture, hard labour, illness and starvation. How they survived is extraordinary. Thousands were killed or died through sickness.
How man can inflict such pain, humiliation and degradation to a fellow human is beyond me.
The most amazing act of love is when Fritz who was relatively safe in Buchenwald chose to follow his Father to Auschwitz. Crammed in wagons, sitting on dead bodies, they arrived and were immediately sent to build a chemical Factory at Monowitz. There was no sanitation, no kitchens or heat. The conditions were horrendous and Typhoid was rife.
Thousands of Jews arrived at Auschwitz. The weak were gassed at Birkenau straight away and the others put to work.
In 1945, realizing that they were losing the War, the Germans emptied Auschwitz and took the prisoners to Mauthausen Camp. Their aim was to hold them hostage and use them as a bargaining tool.
Fritz and Gustav survived and finally returned to Vienna. Gustav managed to start his business again and married an old friend. Fritz found it very hard to settle. He remained badly affected by his experiences. Edith and Kurz made many visits to Vienna and Gustav went to visit his grandchildren in the US.
I wish I could say that the World has learnt from this horrific time in history but sadly one only has to listen to the everyday news. Anti-Semitism is still there and I believe on the increase along with Racism and intolerance towards Religious and Ethnic Groups.
The author, Jeremy Dronfield, should be commended for bringing this story out of the dark into the light so that all of us can read and never forget.
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