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Editor’s Note: The following book review by Florence Clowes appeared in the October 2002 edition of the Polish American Journal. We are including it on our History pages for one important reason: Poles—not only Jews—suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany. Wiernicki’s account is the story of thousands of Poles who were placed in German death camps during World War II.

WAR IN THE SHADOW OF AUSCHWITZ
by John Wiernicki
Syracuse University Press
appendix, bibliography, index,
glossary, illustrations, 273 pp., $29.95

At the onset of World War II, Wiernicki was living on his uncle’s estate in Potoczek, near the secluded Lipa forest. There he acted as a forester, trying to avoid the Germans as much as possible. In the spring of 1942 he set out for Lublin to join the Polish Home Army, where he began training with a small unit in underground activities and later became part of the Eighth Infantry Regiment. While on a visit in Kielce to his grandmother’s in August 1943, he was arrested by the Gestapo. Beaten and tortured, he was shipped to Auschwitz

This testimony is detailed in every respect. Wiernicki, through research, interviews with survivors and available documentation, describes life and death in the concentration camps. He relives those terrible days of senseless, ruthless beatings, hunger and illness, humiliation and abuse and the mentality of prisoner and captor alike. People were separated by barracks according to sex, and ethnic categories and Jews doomed for the gas chamber. Fearful encounters with Doctors Josef Mengele and Heinz Thilo are also included.

The corruption of the camp system, racial politics, anti-Semitism and favoritism existed in every camp, and Birkenau was no different, having underground activities and internal power struggles.

During an evacuation in April 1945, SS guards, in the face of defeat, brutally forced 2000 men to march from Ohrdruf to Buchenwald. Wiernicki escaped from the death march by running into a nearby forest. Soon he encountered a tank coming down the road and fortunately for him, it was an American tank.

Wiernicki emigrated to the United States, became an architect and now lives in Maryland. This is a powerful testimony of man’s determination to live.

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