Posted in book review, education

Survive. Survivor.

Title: Prisoner B-3087
Author: Alan Gratz
Published: 2013
Pages: 260
Genre: History, memoir, non-fiction
My GR rate: 4/5

ARBEIT MACHT FREI. Work makes you free.

Approximately 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust from 1939-1945 during World War II. The Nazi atrocities still taught in history are an eye opener of how evil a society can be. This book really took me through the 10 concentration camps (Plaszow, Trzebinia, Birkenau, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Gross-Rosen, and Dachau) each unique and rough in its own stature. I think only Bergen-Belsen was easier according to Yanek simply because food was in plenty though low quality and gas chambers were not in the vicinity. Buchenwald camp even had wildlife for SS entertainment. Whats puzzling is the UNESCO Wielickza Salt Mine that prisoners like Yanek worked at.

After losing his entire family, Yanek from Krakow, Poland had to survive although he was tired of fighting, of being brave and surviving. And the only way to survive was “be no one, care for no one.”

In camps where entry was through the gate and exit through the chimney, Yanek got his tattoo at Birkenau Camp thus the books title. B-3087; B for Birkenau and 3087 for prison number. After 9 years of misery, he was liberated at Camp Dachau by the British. He immigrated to America and changed his name to Jacob aka Jack.

He takes one through hierarchies in camps where color differentiated prisoners. There were six categories:
1. Red- political prisoners
2. Purple- Jehovah Witnesses
3. Blue- immigrants
4. Green- professional criminals
5. Pink- homosexuals
6. Black- a socials. These were people who did not fit into the Nazi category of ordinary social behavior e.g. priests.

What I didn’t like about the book is that the writer wrote short chapters for each camp maybe to attract junior readers; I feel this would make a good book for teens who are curious. It also felt more like the prisoners only marched to death, ate little to no food, died and overworked. Any who, it must be traumatizing for a survivor to narrate all the ordeals, I get it.

However, after watching videos from the liquidation of ghettos to liberation by the British a lot was revealed. For instance the brothel at Dachau camp that for a very long time had been left out of educational studies of memorial sites. Sonderbau camp that was adjacent to the rabbit structure at Dachau was named so by the Nazi to cover its real purpose and meant special building or special treatment.

200 women had to work in the camp brothel and each woman had to service 8-10 men per day. 80% were a social. Sunday was off day meaning even more men came. The women who at first were volunteers were promised to be released after 6 months of service at the brothel were later taken to Ravensbruck concentration camp which was a women camp only.

It gets even interesting where contraception was not there back then, the women would rinse themselves with acid liquids which were a form of contraception in the 1940s. Naturally research has proved the women in the camps never got their menstruation due to the poor camps conditions rendering them sterile.
Prisoners who were in high hierarchy would visit the brothel to feel warm and normal. Also, in the imminent of death, they wanted to experience sex one more time.

The Nazi did not come from nowhere but developed in the midst of German society and some of these mechanisms, ideologies, racism, exclusion, conspiracy theories still exist today.
Acting director of Buchenwald memorial, Philipp Neumann asks very important questions in a digital tour I watched. Questions that had me while reading this book and questions that continue to be asked:
1. How can a society evolve and allow concentration camps to be built right in their midst?
2. Social mechanisms- what do conspiracy theories have to do with this?
3. How can voters in a democracy be led to vote for a right-wing extremist party?
4. How is it possible that 10km away from Weimar, the Centre of German classic of humanism, a camp can be built where exclusion and violence run rampant?
5. How can it be that businessmen from Weimar, from Erfurt, from the surrounding towns do business with the SS, who lock up thousands of people here?
6. How is it possible that a company such as Topf und Sohne that provided and optimized the cremation chambers, how it is possible that even though they knew what was going on in the camps, they still did what they did?

What can I do to make sure that these events do not happen again today?

Germany, Poland and Czech Republic just got added to my bucket list.