Thursday, October 23, 2008

Review: Scheisshaus Luck, by Pierre Berg

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

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.


Katrina said...

I have always been completely fascinated by this time in history and by Jewish survivors, in particular.

I find in inspiring and insightful to hear even the most mundane stories about the WWII and the Holocaust. Although, it would probably make me angry and tearful at first glance, I might have to find this book and give it go (as time permits). Couple that with the fact that it doesn't sound schmaltzy and corny and that it sounds like a real person (not a saintly soldier of God) wrote it and you've got something that I might want to read.

Good pick, Chuckie.

Charlie said...

Like all books about the Holocaust (and more recent ones about "ethnic cleansings"), they are not easy reading. I feel they must be read, however, so that the millions of human beings who died at the hands of madmen are not forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Ths book is perhaps the bestI have read by a survivor of the Holocaust. Why? It does not try to establish theories on why it happened. Instead it allows you to get a first hand insight into the worst atrocity against mankind. My students who study the Holocaust are unable to really get past the headlines. This book will be recommended to them in order to empathise with an individuals own tragedy during this horrific period. A book that should be read by all those who wish to understand the personal human tragedy of the Holocaust. A beautifully written and inspiring book.

Charlie said...

ANON: Thank you so much for your comment.

Harry Potter and other fantasy books have their place in a young person's reading life, but I believe a dose of historical reality belongs there too. I think this book should be required reading in high school, but I'm sure that, sadly, it would be quickly banned by over-zealous (and zealot) parents.

Wandering Coyote said...

Just thought I'd stop by and say hi, after getting your comment over at my place.

I see you've read a lot of Bernard Cornwell this year. My dad and brother just LOVE him, but I've never been able to get into him. The TV version of Sharpe, however...THAT I could get into, since it contains Sean Bean!

Charlie said...

WC: Thanks for stopping by all the way from BC.

The Cornwell thing: When I find an author I like I have a tendency to overdo him or her. I have two of the Arthur books left, and all of the Sharps—minus the Bean fellow.

And I'm going to take you up on that video review we discussed—that'll shake some people up around here.