When an Episcopal priest named William V. Rauscher and a Jewish survivor named Werner Reich write a book together on magic, the reader can expect to read something unique. This one does not disappoint. The two met because Werner Reich was tracing what became of Herbert Nivelli, a professional magician who was his bunkmate in the Birkenau concentration camp and had taught Reich some card tricks during their internment. Their common interest in magic had so fascinated a concentration camp guard that Reich is sure it saved Nivelli’s life and, indirectly, his own.
Assuming that there are many younger people today who no longer know much about the Holocaust and Hitler, Canon William V. Rauscher introduces it in the book with many archival photographs, a history of the Holocaust and its villains followed by philosophizing on the theme of evil. He also has some provocative thoughts on how one needs an inner sense of divine dimension to cope with drugs and other evils of modern society, and that he finds in Werner Reich’s testimony of his Holocaust experiences a vision of how to rescue today’s youth from repeating that horror. Rauscher then provides a list of Jewish magicians from that Holocaust period. Fascinating!
But the bulk of the book belongs to Reich. His “book in a book” is titled: “From Darkness into Light: The Autobiography of Werner Reich.” Reich’s description of his harrowing journey through the Shoah is dynamite. Reich was only 16 years old when he was taken imprisoned in Auschwitz. His gripping account of how he spent his teenage years in three concentration camps, where he encountered cruelty — but also where sometimes kindness and mutual support by prisoners trying to convert hardship into humor, aided the miracle of surviving. Reich’s bunkmate Nivelli entertained the SS guards with magic tricks and taught some to his young bunkmate. Reichcredits Nivelli for changing his life and possibly for being selected as one not to be killed. He also wanted to thank Nivelli for introducing him to magic. Canon Rauscher helps Reich vis-à-vis Nivelli and invites Reich to write his Holocaust experiences for this book.
In his own book, Reich guides the reader into the deepest recesses of what a teenager experienced in those terrible years of the Holocaust. He limns the entire history of Nazi influence and take over of Germany, his home country, and what happens to him in three increasingly tortuous concentration camps, as well as later on a train when the Germans are about to surrender. After liberation, as he wanders from country to country seeking a home and friends, if not family, one wonders how he survived. Multilingual, he also addresses what happened to him in various countries after the war, at times as painful as his days of incarceration; truly a dismal time until determination to live again and find new friends start to make him whole again. Reich is not only a survivor, he is also a fine author, historian, and might I say, lecturer/speaker. This is a perfect book to offer to those who know little about Holocaust history or memoir. It is an equally perfect book for those who value good writing and admire the courage and strength of those young people who despite all, survived the camps. Each survivor’s story is different, and Reich’s is one of the strangest. Despite his suffering, he retained his wry sense of humor and determination to survive.