When Auschwitz, in occupied Poland, was liberated by the Soviets on Jan. 27, 1945, the soldiers found roughly 7,000 people left behind by the Nazis, too sick to join the tens of thousands evacuated on a death march. Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, Eliazar “Eddy” de Wind was among the relatively few survivors, and a diary of his experiences was published in the Netherlands in 1946.
Grand Central is releasing the first English translation of the book, titled Last Stop Auschwitz, in January. “It’s incumbent on us to educate about the tragedy,” says Gretchen Young, v-p and executive editor at Grand Central. “There are few firsthand accounts of Auschwitz, and a primary source is the best way to keep the memory alive.”
As the 75th anniversary of the liberation approaches, several publishers are releasing titles about Auschwitz and other camps.
Peter Joseph, editorial director at Hanover Square, heard about Slovak Canadian Max Eisen’s memoir By Chance Alone (Jan. 2020) from Jim Gifford, editorial director, nonfiction, at HarperCollins Canada, when it was named a finalist for the Canada Reads award (it went on to win). Eisen, now 90, made his way to North America in 1949 after surviving Auschwitz as a teenager, which Joseph says helps his story resonate with young people. Joseph also notes Eisen’s description of the aftermath of the liberation, when his “family tree had been reduced to two distant cousins, and he had to come to terms with building a new life.”
Such survival stories are, of course, rare. Heather Dune Macadam, in 999 (Citadel, Jan. 2020), details the first transport of Jews to Auschwitz, a train of nearly 1,000 young women sent from Slovakia, almost all of whom were killed. For her book, which coincides with a documentary film of the same name, Macadam interviewed relatives of the deported as well as some of the few survivors. In a trailer for the documentary, one survivor, 94-year-old Edith Grosman, speaks to the camera: “Why did we stay alive? To go and tell. That’s the mission of the survivors.”
British historian Mark Felton says that while he was researching POWs held at Auschwitz, he discovered sources that referred to Jewish American POWs at Berga, part of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Operation Swallow (Center Street, Oct.), named for the Nazis’ plan to exterminate the POWs through forced labor, chronicles an escape attempt organized by a group of prisoners. Dozens died at the camp or on a post-evacuation march, and survivors were ordered by their superiors to keep silent about the ordeal, rendering escape leader Hans Kasten’s effort to “take the news of German atrocities to the Allied lines” all the more urgent in hindsight, Felton says.
Other POWs ended up complicit in Nazi crimes, as was the case with thousands of captured Soviet troops and civilians who were recruited by the SS to help clear Jewish ghettos in occupied Poland. After the war, some of the “Trawniki men,” named for the camp where they were trained, blended with the civilian exodus from Central and Eastern Europe to the U.S., where officials at the Department of Justice were determined to identify and prosecute them. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Debbie Cenziper’s Citizen 865 (Hachette, Nov.) reconstructs the decades-long search for the mass murderers, 16 of whom were eventually deported to Europe. According to Hachette, Cenziper, an investigative journalist at the Washington Post, gained “unprecedented access to federal agents, Nazi documents, and government records” to piece together her account of the hunt.