“Blending elements of memoir, history, and biography,” the son of a Holocaust survivor “portrays the horrifying reality of the . . . concentration camps” (Midwest Book Review).
In June 1944, the Nazis locked eighteen-year-old Dave Hersch into a railroad boxcar and shipped him from his hometown of Dej, Hungary, to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the harshest, cruelest camp in the Reich. After ten months in the granite mines of Mauthausen’s nearby sub-camp, Gusen, he weighed less than 80lbs, nothing but skin and bones.
Somehow surviving the relentless horrors of these two brutal camps, as Allied forces drew near Dave was forced to join a death march to Gunskirchen Concentration Camp, over thirty miles away. Soon after the start of the march, and more dead than alive, Dave summoned a burst of energy he did not know he had and escaped. Quickly recaptured, he managed to avoid being killed by the guards. Put on another death march a few days later, he achieved the impossible: he escaped again.
Using only his father’s words for guidance, Jack Hersch takes us along as he flies to Europe to learn the secrets his father never told of his time in the camps. Beginning in the verdant hills of his father’s Hungarian hometown, we accompany Jack’s every step as he describes the unimaginable: what his father must have seen and felt while struggling to survive in the most abominable places on earth.
“This deeply personal and extremely informative portrait of a man of indomitable will to live, as Hersch emphasizes, reminds us of why we must never forget nor trivialize the full, shocking truth about the Holocaust.”—Booklist
Hersch effectively uses his father's unusual story to convey the horrors of the Holocaust. In 1945, David Hersch, imprisoned at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, managed to escape from his Nazi captors twice. While David had shared some of the details with his son, it was only after his death in 2001 that Jack learned his father had made a return visit in 1997 to the site of his torment. That revelation prompted Jack to undertake his own pilgrimage to Austria, where he sought out key places in his father's narrative, including the place where David was given refuge by an old woman whose hospitality was followed by betrayal. Jack also visits the home of the non-Jewish Friedmann family, who rescued a starving and exhausted David and hid him until American troops arrived. Jack is able to corroborate key details of his father's account, narratively balancing his experiences in the present with family members' recollections of the past. In the process, he comes to understand why he never pushed his father for more information. While that reason won't surprise many readers, and the psyche of children of survivors has been explored with greater depth elsewhere, this is still a valuable addition to Holocaust literature.