Publication Date: October 11, 2019
eBook & Paperback; 364 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
A strange case scheduled for the Denazification Court lands on the desk of an American psychiatrist currently serving in Germany, Dr. Hoffman.
A former Auschwitz guard, Franz Dahler, is set to appear in court, and he has requested to bring the most unexpected witness to testify in his defense – one of his former inmates and current wife, Helena.
As soon as one of the newly emerging Nazi hunters and former Auschwitz inmate, Andrej Novák, recognizes the officer’s name, he demands a full investigation of Dahler’s crimes, claiming that the former SS man was not only abusing Helena in the camp but is also using her as a ploy to escape prosecution.
Silent, subdued, and seemingly dependent on her husband’s every word, Helena appears to be a classic victim of abuse, and possibly more of an aid to the prosecution instead of the defense.
As she begins giving her testimony, Dr. Hoffman finds himself more and more confused at the picture that gradually emerges before his eyes; a perpetrator is claimed to be the savior and the accuser, the criminal.
The better Dr. Hoffman gets to know each participant, the more he begins to question himself; whether he’s facing a most unimaginable love story, or a new and still-nameless psychological disorder affecting the very manner in which Helena sees the events of the past.
Partially based on a true story, this deeply psychological, haunting novel will take you back in time to the heart of Auschwitz and post-war Germany, and will keep you guessing the true motive of each side.
Firstly: my deepest apologies to Ms. Midwood for the lateness. I’ve only had mobile internet for the last few days. -_-
The Holocaust is something that I think everyone should take the time to reflect upon. It’s something I do after I read a book based on World War II; always mindful of that horrible event. I can’t imagine, despite all of the stories, the proof, everything, how horrible it truly was. The older I get, the more I learn. I had the honor of visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC back in 2001, months before 9/11. It’s stayed with me. As time goes on, of course, the emotion fades slightly, the awe, the wonder, the horror…and it all came back as I read this story.
I’m not going to rehash the synopsis for you. To do so would be useless, but I will tell you, it’s a true story. You can look on YouTube and other books to read it. It was definitely a book that got you thinking about a lot of things. In a Death Camp, how is it possible that love can grow? How is it possible that love could change a heart that was hardened by hatred? The story here is multi-layered but is still remarkable for the simple truth, love trumps all. I never in a million years would have thought such a thing possible. I have only come to know as I grow older that small acts of kindness did occur in such dire places. It’s awe-inspiring if you think about it. The Holocaust was, and remains, one of the biggest tragedies (and even that word does not seem vast enough to encompass it.) the world has ever seen. Yet, to know that love grew there, and even saved some lives is utterly remarkable.
Helena gives the impression that she is reliant upon her husband, but she is there in his defense. It baffles those present and makes one wonder if she’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Was she insane? Were her memories of that time twisted? Had Franz made her believe this so she would live? Given that it’s 1972 and after the war ended, he spent two years looking for her…I tend to believe it was genuine love. There’s so many questions and whilst they are answered, you still wonder, deep down, if it was the truth. I do believe it. I have to believe that love really can overcome any obstacle.
This is not a light read. There is no getting around that. I would suggest taking breaks, but I assure you that you’ll find it worth it to read this. Ms. Midwood is an astounding talent; writing in detail and honesty, never faltering from the truth. I thought this was one of the best reads of 2019 and I know it will stay with me. I’m also certain that whatever she puts out next, I will be most assuredly reading it because this was absolutely brilliant.
If you’re interested in her process….I’ve got a guest post right here for you!
One of the questions readers ask almost all authors is; “where do you get inspiration for your stories?” Most authors usually reply, “imagination” or “this character just popped into my head and I just had to tell their story.” I have written some books the same way; when a character just appears out of nowhere and starts nagging me to write about them and positively refuses to leave me alone until I do but my favorite inspiration sources, if I’m entirely honest, are real people. As a historical fiction writer, who spends a lot of time researching WWII and the Holocaust, I often come across the most unbelievable stories that leave me speechless and which keep me up at night, as I try to process them and think what possessed people to act this way; what were they feeling when they were risking their lives for someone else; why one person acted this particular way and yet that person’s best friend – in the complete opposite way; why did someone chose oppression and yet someone else died, in the name of freedom?…
When I first heard about Franz Wunsch and Helena Citrónová’s story, I was a bit stunned, as a researcher. I mean, it’s not every day that you hear about an SS guard in Auschwitz falling in love with a Jewish girl who worked under his charge and when that guard then goes as far as saving, not only her but her sister also, from the gas chamber and later gets arrested by the camp Gestapo for that, that’s definitely one hell of a story, which I knew right away I just had to write about. I wrote the first draft of “Auschwitz Syndrome” in just under two months because their story inspired me to the point where I was waking up each day and thinking only about writing. I read everything I could find about them and was obsessing to get every single detail right. I was fortunate enough, as Helena gave quite a few interviews to the BBC and Franz’s testimony from his trial was also available, during which, he told the story from his point of view, so that definitely made my job easier, research-wise. In the end, I felt like I knew these two people personally and their story became something that just needed to be told.
I think what inspired me the most about it, is not actually the mere idea of the possibility of romance existing in such horrifying circumstances. What moved me the most was learning about the changes that Franz underwent under Helena’s gentle influence, affecting him so profoundly that he’d later on, actually gotten physically sick while escorting people toward the gas chamber, according to Ernst Müller’s account (you can read more about it in H. Langbein’s study, “People in Auschwitz”, which was one of my primary sources of research) and made him risk his freedom – and life, since Rassenschande (race defilement) was a grave offense for any German, let alone an SS man – for his beloved. Is it true that love is indeed stronger than hate and can change a person if only that person allows themselves to open their eyes – and heart – to the possibility of such a change? It’s such true stories that inspire me the most with their powerful message. If an SS-man could risk his life for a Jewish inmate and if that former Jewish inmate could later come and testify, in his defense, during his trial, we, society in general, can find it in ourselves to be kinder to each other; to learn how to love, instead of hating our differences; to learn forgiveness instead of seeking revenge; to choose light instead of darkness. Such true stories are and will always be my biggest inspiration.