Returning to his hometown of Aussig in Czechoslovakia more than forty years after his liberation from Buchenwald, Felix Weinberg remarks, “I believe that the Communists did more to destroy the beauty of my hometown than the Germans did.” Such frank analysis of what was and was not done by the Germans is central to this interesting and important narrative. The author, a professor of Combustion Physics at the Imperial College, London, decided to write his memoir of the Holocaust late in life for his children and grandchildren.
Weinberg grew up in a wealthy family, complete with summers spent on vacation and winters at ski resorts. In 1938, with Hitler moving on the Sudetenland, his father left for England to try to obtain visas for the rest of the family. The author celebrated his bar mitzvah after Nazi regulations forbidding Jews from travelling came into effect. At first Weinberg was reticent to write about his experience in the Nazi camps. “I tried hard to forget, I wanted to live for the future and not define myself as a ‘camp survivor.’” At first he was sent to Theresienstadt, which he recalls as a relatively decent experience compared to the shock that followed. Weinberg credits his being saved from the gas chambers at Auschwitz to being apprenticed to a man who liked him for ulterior motives. “I always seem to have been attractive to homosexuals, which turned out later to be yet another factor in saving my life.” It was at Auschwitz that he last saw his mother and brother. Dispatched to a satellite camp named Blechhammer, the author recalls perversely that the slave labor battalion he joined “instead of trying to sabotage the operation, we decided to act as an elite workforce.” As he describes the process of miraculously surviving the Nazi death machine, he comes to the conclusion that “survival feels less like a heroic act than having won a lottery against truly astronomical odds.”
There are many Holocaust memoirs and there are several famous ones that deal with the experience of the death marches. For those familiar with these accounts the story related here will not be altogether new. However, the author’s matter-of-fact presentation and his rumination on life so close to death provide an important narrative and one that researchers and those interested in Jewish or European history, especially students, will find immensely compelling. Acknowledgments, appendix, foreword, preface.