Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor

“At Auschwitz dying was so easy. Surviving was a full time job.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 175 pages.
Read from May 12, 2017 to May 13, 2017.

I wanted this book off Netgalley but it was no longer available. Dammit. Well, I wanted to read it so badly that I bought it. I was not disappointed.

Eva and her twin, Miriam, were just 10 years old when they were ripped away from their family. It was the middle of WWII and they were among the many Jews being taken to Auschwitz. Eva and Miriam never saw their family again and their survival began from the fact that they were identical twins. As twins, they were given a bit of special treatment compared to the other Jews as the Nazi’s were invested in keeping them alive, at least for a brief period of time. Dr. Josef Mengele, or the Angel of Death, as he became known carried out hundreds of inhumane experiments on twins. Twins were injected with nasty diseases and forced into experiments that killed most of them.

“I was given five injections. That evening I developed extremely high fever. I was trembling. My arms and my legs were swollen, huge size. Mengele and Dr. Konig and three other doctors came in the next morning. They looked at my fever chart, and Dr. Mengele said, laughingly, ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.’ 

After fighting to stay alive though the experiments, even at 10, Eva was stubborn and driven to survive. Her uncanny resilience and skills are what kept her and her sister alive during their time in the Auschwitz camp. Eva never did discover what she was injected with despite her extensive research efforts as an adult. The outcome of these injections left both Eva and Miriam with lifelong repercussions and symptoms.

The scene that has been etched into my mind is the one Eva describes near the end of her story. Shortly after the camps had been abandoned by the Nazi’s, the remaining prisoners were struggling to survive and find food, many of them to weak or scared to leave the camp. While Eva is out looking for food she encounters a young normal-looking German girl on her way to school. Eva, in her thin and decrepit form, just stares at the girl. She is mortified to know that that people are living such regular lives while her and her sister lived through hell. Thankfully, the pair and the remainder of the prisoners were saved shortly thereafter.

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Eva’s story is jaw-dropping. I only put the book down because I had to, otherwise I would have read the whole book in one sitting. You get to know Eva and her family personally as she shares a less common (but equally horrifying) story of the Nazi era.

Eva’s advocacy and courage continued throughout her life with the creation of CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors).  She is also an advocate for forgiveness and has personally forgiven former Nazi’s for their part in the war.

If you have any interest in human resilience, survival, history, and just general awe-inspiring inspiration then I highly recommend this short read.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

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3/5 stars.
ebook, 353 pages.
Read from April 04 to 14, 2013.

I read The Diary of a Young Girl, for the first time as an adult. Here is my throwback review:

Anne Frank happened to live in a devastating era. For 2 years, Anne and her family were hidden in away in a Secret Annexe in order to keep from being sent off  to concentration camps. Her diary is a depiction of this time. In so many ways, Anne is like a an ordinary teenager (though I don’t think teenagers these days write as well as her): Boys, struggles with her family, her self-image and explorations of her own sexuality, it just all happened to take place during the Holocaust. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to come of age during this time. I only wish that Anne had survived to further tell her story.

I’m thankful that I read this book as an adult because it allowed me to truly grasp how horrible Anne’s situation really was. If I read this as a teenager I might have connected and likely focused on her struggles with her parents and her craziness about boys rather than seeing the big picture of the scenario she had found herself in, as Anne often tried to focus on things that were not directly related to the sorrows of her family too much. In some ways, if taken out of context, the diary could just be that of a normal teenager to some extent. You almost forget to atrocities going on outside of Anne’s thoughts until she reminds the reader of her situation. Anne grows up so much through out the writing of this novel, in an almost tragic sense, and she realizes that. She comments on her nativity and realizes that she will never again be that innocent child. She even at one point finally acknowledges the cruelty she has displayed to her parents. I’m also glad I read the definitive edition and that the publisher added an introduction with an explanation of with how her father handled her diary as well as the tragic ending of most of the people in the Secret Annexe.

Speaking of the Secret Annexe, I can only  imagine the boredom! I felt claustrophobic just reading this diary! Not being able to go outside for almost 2 years?! Really, sit back and think about that for a second… They couldn’t go outside. No exercise. No sunshine or wind on their faces. They didn’t have a TV or anything like that. Just books and paper. I admire that Anne and many of the members were still committed to learning. It gave them hope that there was future and that they would continue on living. I also adore how headstrong Anne is. She always spoke her mind, voiced  her opinion and believed that women should be equal to men. A bold opinion in that day and age, especially for a teenager! I can imagine her, if she had lived, being a role-model and advocate to women’s rights and the survivors of the holocaust. I suppose her memory and the contribution of her diary does do this in so many ways. It’s just unfortunate that so many people like Anne were taken away from this world in such a cruel, unnecessary and horrific manner.

Another tragedy of this, is the extent that Anne distanced from her own family during this hard time. It sounds like each person in the Secret Annexe felt very alone. I suppose that it’s normal for a girl her age to want to distance herself but I can’t imagine how hard it was on her parents. The scene in which her mother is crying and sitting by her bed and says something about how Anne doesn’t love her broke my heart. Living in the Secret Annexe would have been inexorably hard; living in fear inside a cramped space without basic necessities sometimes and ultimately feeling alone and without comfort… it just makes me cringe. I also can’t imagine the inner turmoil they all must have felt too, as Anne describes at one point as well, about feeling miserable about their situation but knowing that they are still one of the lucky ones, as their friends and neighbours are killed and shipped off to concentration camps.

The people who assisted everyone in the Secret Annexe are remarkable human beings. The amount of times and the extent of how often they fell ill showed the extent of the massive amounts of stress that they dealt with trying to keep Anne and her family safe. Even at the risk of their own health and life, they still continued to protect the families in the Secret Annexe.

Overall, I’m thankful I found time to read this classic. It’s an important piece of literature that should never be forgotten.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 336 pages.
Read from May 07 to 26, 2015.

I’m not sure how to classify this book. I guess it’s a history book  of the Indians of North American that also discusses their past and current social and cultural issues. The difference being the style of writing that King has chosen to portray this information. King writes this book like he is having a conversation with you, literally. He even adds tidbits of what his wife Helen would have suggested for certain portions of the book. It’s a bit jarring at first but once you warm up to the style it actually makes for a pleasurable and potent read on some very relevant and important topics.

This was the last book out of the five that I’ve read  for Canada Reads 2015, I will make a post discussing all five of the books next week.

As a white person, I feel that this is a very important book. Growing up in Canada you get your fair share of Native American history throughout your schooling, however I can tell you now after reading this book that the history comes from a very biased, and white, perspective. The history taught in Canadian schools doesn’t touch the half of what has really occurred to the Natives in this country.  This book is important because King gives a voice to the hushed Native Americans of North America and lays out exactly why  the ‘Indian problem’ is still very relevant in today’s society. I think that many non- Natives don’t understand complexity of Native history and why some reservations today are often times filled with Natives that cannot ‘integrate’ into society. King does a phenomenal job of laying out the neutral facts and realities that face may Natives today by detailing their histories that brought them to this point, and why some of the long standing issues that they have to deal with are still not solved.  King’s neutral and relatively pleasant style of writing allows to the reader to approach the  content without getting defensive, for both Natives and non-Natives.

In terms of Canada Reads, I can see why this book was cut first. In comparison to the other books, this one just didn’t hit the theme as much, which is books that break boundaries. Don’t get me wrong this book does break boundaries with it’s writing style and by discussing the Native issues that many try to ignore but in comparison to the other books in the challenge, this one wasn’t as  strong.

Just based on King’s writing style in this book, I am interested to read more by him. He is a captivating writer and I imagine his fiction would be quite good. Overall, I think that any non-Native person born in North America would benefit from reading this book in order to get a greater understanding and appreciation for the groups of people that were here long before us.