The Magi­cian of Auschwitz

  • Review
By – October 31, 2014

Young Wern­er, his father dead, his moth­er last seen marched off before being loaded onto a cat­tle car, and his sis­ter in hid­ing, is alone in the Fam­i­ly Camp of Auschwitz.” There he meets a pris­on­er, a sweet and gen­tle man named Levin. The two share a wood­en bunk. Days and nights of fear, exhaus­tion and pun­ish­ments of prison­ers fol­low, described in print and illus­trat­ed in sepia tones that broad­cast the doom and despair of the camp, some stretch­ing across the top of two half pages, oth­ers not, but all won­der­ful­ly expres­sive. Wern­er thinks his bunk­mate too gen­tle for this ter­ri­ble place and soon finds out that he was a famous magi­cian known in Europe as The Great Niv­el­li.” Herr Levin pro­duces one card trick after anoth­er to amuse the guards upon demand. Wern­er thinks that the guards will be grate­ful for the enter­tain­ment and per­haps give the magi­cian extra food. What he does not under­stand is that should the guard fail to be enter­tained, or if Levin runs out of tricks, the magician’s life would be end­ed. To con­sole Wern­er, whose bread has been stolen by anoth­er pris­on­er, Levin teach­es him a card trick. After a while, Wern­er catch­es on and is able to per­form the trick. For just a moment, the mis­ery of Auschwitz melt­ed away. Some­one had cared about him and giv­en him hope.” In a seg­ment at the end of the book called How it Hap­pened,” among the pho­tos, are Werner’s par­ents, his sis­ter Renate and him­self at ages 11 and 14. After the war, Wern­er devel­oped a life-long inter­est in magic. 

The book had a won­der­ful sur­prise end­ing for me because Wern­er is my friend in real life who tes­ti­fies to chil­dren and adults at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, which I did not real­ize until the last few pages of the book! These final pages fol­low up the sto­ry with cur­rent pic­tures of Wern­er and his wife, Eva, and tell what hap­pened to him and his sis­ter after the war. I had nev­er heard this sto­ry before! This is a won­der­ful book for ages 8 – 12, but Wern­er says that he has told his sto­ry, some­what mod­i­fied, to chil­dren as young as 7.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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