Saturday, 24 August 2013

Recent Reads / An Englishman in Auschwitz Book Review

Hi folks,

One of my favourite past times is reading, and it has been since I was very young. There's just something heavenly about turning the pages of a well-written book and getting lost in my imagination, whether it's for fifteen minutes on public transport, or for an entire day curled up in bed with the rain drumming against the window. Only, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I get far too distracted with other things (I'm blaming you, Pinterest!), and don't read as much as I should. I need to change that.

I've only read about seven or eight books so far this year (plus a couple I began and set aside), but I've decided I want to start sharing the books I've read once I've finished them. I used to do this regularly on Livejournal and Tumblr, and I'm not sure why I've barely done so here. Today, I'm going to give you a quick peek at some of the books I've read, and review them all separately later on, beginning with An Englishman in Auschwitz today.

So far this year I've read and enjoyed:

-Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz
-Instructions For a Heatwave by Maggie O' Farrell
-An Englishman in Auschwitz by Leon Greenman
-The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
-Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
-Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen (on the Kindle)

I've also stopped and started a few, including World War Z, The Help, and a couple of others... I've lacked the will to concentrate on numerous occasions. I'm not sure why.

I'm currently almost half way through Joyland by Stephen King, which I'm enjoying, but more on that in another post. Today I'm going to review An Englishman in Auschwitz.

An Englishman in Auschwitz by Leon Greenman Review

I purchased this book several years ago after visiting the extremely moving Holocaust exhibition in London's Imperial War Museum- (Which I'd recommend visiting if you have an interest in learning more about the Holocaust, although it is a distressing experience and not for the faint hearted.)- but until recently it remained unread on my book shelf. It wasn't until I caught Schindler's List on TV earlier this year that I remembered I had it, and chose to read it.

An Englishman in Auschwitz is a Holocaust testimony written by English born, Dutch raised Greenman, a Jewish man who remarkably defied the odds and survived life in no less than five Nazi concentration camps. This book is his story, beginning with his childhood and life before the war, before going on to focus on the occupation of Holland, and life in the concentration camps. He talks about life in these camps, the suffering which he and others endured at the hands of the Nazis, and how he survived in the face of real adversity.

Greenman's story is quite simply, heart-breaking. He was living in Holland at the time of the war, but he was born in England, so his family were officially British nationals. He became anxious to move his wife and son to England as early as 1938, but was assured by the British Consulate that if a war began, they'd be contacted and evacuated; so they waited. They entrusted their passports and money with friends for safe keeping, only to learn when they returned to retrieve them in 1940 that their passports had been burnt in fear of discovery by the Nazis. The British Consulate had also been abandoned, and although Greenman fought to gain the papers necessary to prove his family's nationality, they didn't arrive in time to prevent their deportation to a concentration camp in October 1942. 

The Greenmans were taken to Westerbork camp and on to Birkenau, where his wife and infant son were immediately gassed. Leon was spared the same fate, chosen as one of fifty men for slave labour. He endured three years of suffering and imprisonment in the Nazi concentration camps; being moved from Birkenau to Auschwitz, to Monowitz, Gleiwitz, and Buchenwald, where he was finally liberated in April 1945. It was only after his liberation that he learnt of his wife and son's fates, and that if the chief of Westerbork Camp had opened his mail, which contained proof of their nationality, before deporting his family to Birkenau, their lives would've been spared. On return to Holland in October 1945, he learnt just five members of his Dutch family had survived, and that of 700 people deported by the Nazis from his community that day in April 1942, he was one of just two men to return.

His story was written as if speaking directly to the reader, recollecting about his past in the same manner my Grandad does when he tells me stories of his life. I read it in a few sittings in horror, sadness, and morbid fascination, and it brought many lumps to my throat and tears to my eyes. I found his story and his accounts of concentration camp life incredibly moving, especially learning that his wife and infant son had been euthanized on arrival at Birkenau, but how he didn't know their fate until he had been liberated years later. I also shed tears reading of the suffering he and others endured at the hands of the Nazis. It's incredible that he escaped the fate of millions, time after time.

I can't say that I enjoyed reading this book; to say that would be wrong. I don't take enjoyment in learning about real life suffering and tragedy. However, I am interested in learning more about the Holocaust, and found Leon Greenman's account to be interesting, moving, and well written. One of the best accounts of the Holocaust I've read to date. His story opened my eyes to real suffering and evil, and helped me to realise just how blessed I am to live the life of freedom, safety, and comfort I do today. 

I'll never fully understand what the millions of victims endured but I think it's important that the stories of the survivors are read and told to prevent a holocaust happening again. 

Leon Greenman survived to tell his haunting story, and for fifty years he dedicated his life to educating students in schools, colleges, and universities about the evilness of racism, and all he experienced because of it. He died in 2008 at the grand age of ninety-seven.



  1. That sounds like an interesting book. I have been interested in history ever since my granddad used to tell me all his war stories. When I was a teenager I read a book called Eva's Story by Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss. It was difficult book to read at times. At the time she was sent to Auschwitz Eva was a similar age to me when I was reading it so it had a huge effect on me. It was unbelievable and heartbreaking what happened. If you would like to read another account I would recommend Eva's book. As you said in your review, it's not enjoyable to read of such terrible events but it's eye opening and there are many moments of hope in it too.

    1. I found it really fascinating. My Grandad used to do the same, but I never appreciated them properly when I was growing up. I do now. I've heard of Eva Schloss, but I've not read her book, so I will certainly look out for it. I remember reading The Diary of Anne Frank when I was eleven or twelve, but I don't think I truly understand what it stood for back then, especially since we were shielded from so much of the horror of the Holocaust at that age. xx

  2. I love the way I can get lost in a book. I have been known when I get into a story to spend the entire day reading it. Have you read "The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz"? That's quite a story.

    On a more light hearted note, another recommendation is "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" xx

    1. Oh, I love those lazy days spent buried in a book- especially when it's raining outside. No, I've not read that book yet, but I'll definitely add it to my to-read list.

      Haha, that sounds like a funny little read! xx

  3. that sounds like a really interesting book i will have to get myself a copy! i finished joy land and loved it xx

    1. It's a really interesting account, and if you're interested in hearing more about the Holocaust I really do recommend it. I finished Joyland recently, too! I really enjoyed it, but I thought it wasn't as fast-paced as most of his books xx


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