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As humanity nears the 21st Century, the systematic annihilation of 6 million Jews during the Second World War is the ugliest blight on humanity for the preceeding century. Although there are countless books out there about this, the still unanswered question remains: how could an advanced, modern state execute systematic murder of a whole group of people for no other reason than they were Jewish? Despite other events in modern history (Black African slavery importation, The Armenian Massacre, Roman treatment of Christians, The Japanese massacre of the Chinese in Nanking, etc.) never has one nation used all of it's means, i.e. ideological, political, military, technological and material, etc., to execute a program of mass murder of other people. Louis J. Micheels, M.D. was a Jewish medical student in the Netherlands in 1940 when the Nazi's invaded. Written in 1989, Micheels details through his experience the growth of the virulent ideology that underscored the plan to annihilate all European Jews. In 1942, attempting to escape the Nazi systematic exposure of Jews to hunger, sickness, cruelty, imprisonment in Ghettos and the deadly "Zyclon-B" gassing in concentration camps, Dr. Micheels took his fiancee Nora and attempted to flee to neutral Switzerland. Deceived by Gestapo infiltration into his smuggling attempt, Dr. Micheels and Nora were caught after crossing the border into Belgium and were both shipped to Auschwitz. Spared by the Nazi's because of his utilitarian knowledge of medicine, Micheels describes his hair raising experiences in Auschwitz, his role in the "Death March" to Dachau as the Allies rapidly closed in on the camps and the Nazi's were trying to cover their atrocities, and his daring escape from a transport group near the Austrian border. Hitler's death march So why did Dr. Micheels, a practicing psychoanalyst and professor in psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine at the time this book was written (1989) wait over forty years to tell his story? Dr. Micheels attributes the long interval to "the spirit of silence" that was fostered in the death camps. Micheel's wrote: "Every inmate, as soon as he knew of the genocide, experiments with human beings, and other such crimes, became a "Geheimnistraqer or Bearer of the Secret." For further reading, see Vivien Spitz's book "Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans" Micheels continues "Such prisoners were not supposed to survive least they give testimony to those hellish crimes. Strangely, the sense of being a "Geheimnistrager, of having to been a witness to....such unimaginable horrors, did not disappear after the war but lingered on". Throughout the book, the concept of separation and loss continually jumps out at the reader, as Micheels former familiar world of being a medical student in love with the woman of his dreams transforms into the terrifying world of trying to survive with the backdrop of Auschwitz's inhumane treatment, Nazi torment, and the horrific, nonstop odor of the crematoriums. Aside from his medical background giving him a privileged position in the camp, Micheels devotes much space in this book to his relationship with Nora, his fiancee, who he linked up with in Auschwitz. His relationship with her represented a bridge of intensely human values and connections to the past which gave him the antidote of love to combat the omnipresent sadism imposed by the Nazi's. Although Dr. Micheels and Nora both survived Auschwitz, their relationship sadly did not. Although Dr. Micheels lost his parents, removed his tattoo that the Nazi's seared on his forearm and was completely separated from everything of the past, the one connection left to him was her. Finding her after the war with a crucifix around her neck, Micheels painfully recalls how her looks changed (she gained weight) and the pain he felt from Nora's confession to him of her infidelity. However, Dr. Micheels asserts that the biggest reason for the breakup was: "I am convinced that another important factor contributing to our parting grew out of my desire to forget the immediate past. It seems ironic that, if only because of our special closeness, of that incomprehensible and threatening period of our lives". Any reader that has loved and lost a woman after a traumatic event will closely identify with this part of the story. Finally, Micheels recalls many aspects of Auschwitz that few other accounts bear. He writes how he used his position to save other prisoners from the "death selection" process and his revolt of the Nazi doctors violating their "Hippocratic Oath" by performing sadistic medical experiments. Another topic was food. Food was power in the camps, and there were those that would kill for it. The Micheels also, in his escape from a Nazi transport fleeing the Allies at the end of the war, dispels the myth that all European Jews went passively to their death in the camps. e Micheels discusses Jewish resistance, Nazi fear of the Russians approaching from the East, and why the Allies didn't bomb the Concentration Camps, despite the Anglo-American cognizance of their existence. This book is a personal testament of a survivor of the Nazi horrors and his statement of how important love is is for survival.
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