Thursday, October 23, 2008
Review: Scheisshaus Luck, by Pierre Berg
In the Preface to his story, Pierre Berg writes, “All I can give you, I hope . . . is an understanding of what it was like to be an able-bodied teenager torn from family, friends, and home, tossed into a Nazi death camp, and nearly reduced to what the Nazis considered all of us who were tattooed, . . . subhuman.”
Berg, an eighteen-year-old French Gentile, carries through on his promise, taking the reader through the Grand Guignol Theatre of the Real. He does not philosophize, call on God for help (he is an atheist), or attempt to reason out the reasons for the Holocaust. Rather, he credits his survival to scheisshaus luck—shithouse in English—and I believe he was right.
Berg’s arrest by a suspicious Gestapo officer led to a designation of political prisoner and a trip to Auschwitz III-Monowitz—a labor camp for the gigantic I.G. Farben chemical factories. While Monowitz had no ovens, hundreds of prisoners died from the back breaking work, exposure to the freezing cold and wind, severe malnutrition, disease, bullets to the head, and hanging for minor infractions. The bodies were loaded onto trucks and sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau’s crematoriums, the ashes then used to fertilize the Polish cabbage fields.
Berg made it through an eighteen-month odyssey through hell using his wits, his ability to speak four or five languages, and scheisshaus luck. Two years after his liberation, he wrote his story while it was still fresh in his mind. In 2001, more than fifty years after the fact, Berg met his co-writer Brian Brock in the Cannon Theatre in Beverly Hills. Berg was an usher, Brock was at the concession stand, and I wonder: was it scheisshaus luck that brought these two employees together? Their goal was to preserve the voice of a young Berg and they did it successfully.