A Fearsome Cover

Posted inThe Daily Heller
Thumbnail for A Fearsome Cover

A decade ago I was given a book with a fabric over boards cover resembled the striped prison uniform common to the Nazi concentration camps. The only “title” on the front was a letter and number: P (in an upside down lavender triangle) and 6643. On the spine is typeset: “We Were in Auschwitz.” The original published in 1946 cover is, in fact, a swatch of one of the three authors’ prison garb. One of the authors, Tadusz Borowski, was discovered by Philip Roth and his book This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, about his time working a sorter of victims’ belongings in the camp “Canada,” was published by Penguin. This unique book published by Welcome Rain Publishers (New York) is described on Amazon.com thusly:

Originally compiled in 1945 by three Polish gentiles who spent time in Nazi camps for their “political crimes,” this account describes life in Auschwitz with a chilling immediacy. Translated now for the first time into English by [Alicia] Nitecki (Recovered Land), the book is a collection of writings (some of which appeared in This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, a collection [Tadusz] Borowski edited shortly before his suicide in 1951) on various aspects of camp life. All the memoirs detail, in spare, unsentimental prose, the unthinkable activities the prisoners embraced in order to survive: inmates sorted through the valuables of the dead; Kapos did not hesitate to murder other inmates so that they could go on living; doctors in the so-called camp hospitals were more likely to kill than treat the seriously ill. There’s a devastating description of one Christmas Eve: after watching starving Gypsy children get chased away from piles of bread, the narrator indulges in a meal of stolen food. Here is stark depiction of a chaotic and cruel reality, made even worse by the absence of morality, charity or fellowship. There were, according to these survivors, no heroes at Auschwitz; those who did not die became “totally familiar with the inexplicable and the abnormal” and “learned to live on intimate terms with the crematoria.” This is an important addition to Holocaust studies, but not for those who choose to see survival in Auschwitz as a triumph of the human spirit.

It may just be me, but there is something eerie seeing the UPC stripes on the back of this cover.