Auschwitz Report

  • Review
By – October 26, 2011

Thou­sands of books have been pro­duced on the sub­ject of the Holo­caust, from large his­tor­i­cal tomes to psy­cho­analy­ses of the Nazis. Every aspect of this hor­ri­ble tragedy has been exam­ined from every con­ceiv­able angle, held up to the light, and dis­sect­ed again. It is unlike­ly that his­to­ri­ans a gen­er­a­tion or two from now will come up with any fresh per­spec­tives, such is the state of the extant literature. 

Yet despite all these vol­umes, it is like­ly that only a few will stand the test of time and be remem­bered fifty years hence. And I think the most like­ly sur­vivors, if you will, will be those that are per­son­al in nature, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, which describes in every­day lan­guage the plight of one fam­i­ly in Hol­land. Its ele­gance lies in its poignancy. 

The cur­rent vol­ume, Auschwitz Report, tells a com­pa­ra­ble sto­ry, that of the Ital­ian writer Pri­mo Levi in Auschwitz at the end of the war. Asked” by the Rus­sians, for polit­i­cal rea­sons, to describe con­cen­tra­tion camp con­di­tions, Levi does so in a straight­for­ward, here-are-the-facts man­ner. There is no need for embell­ish­ment or sus­tained lit­er­ary style; the facts are the sto­ry, and noth­ing more is required. Try­ing to tidy up or spin” the dis­gust­ing, prim­i­tive con­di­tions of the camps would be a disservice. 

For any teacher who wants his/​her stu­dents to learn about the Holo­caust, and to get a feel for what went on, a 600-page com­pre­hen­sive his­to­ry is not nec­es­sary. This thin vol­ume, less than 100 pages, describ­ing in stark detail the every­day life and inhu­mane med­ical con­di­tions of the con­cen­tra­tion camp vic­tim, is plen­ty. The sto­ry is har­row­ing in its sparse lit­er­ary style. Its ele­gance also lies in its poignancy. 

Paul M. Arnold, MD, is pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­surgery and direc­tor of the Spinal Cord Injury Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas.

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