Vanished in Darkness: An Auschwitz Memoir
Bill Brydon was a librarian/journalist in Toronto.
This memoir of life in Auschwitz was published to defy “revisionists” such as Zundel and Keegstra who say the Holocaust is fiction. Eva Brewster is an Alberta newspaper columnist who has concerned herself with civil rights and racism since 1971. In 1943, she was deported to Auschwitz from her native Berlin. When the Auschwitz camps were evacuated in January 1945, and their prisoners sent West to Belsen, Brewster escaped with her mother. She wrote down her story after the war, but could not bear to publish it because of the cruelty of her memories. Her first husband and her daughter both were gassed in Auschwitz.
Insensitive as it may seem to say it, Vanished in Darkness is a terrific adventure story. There is an appropriate balance between action and description. The squalor of the camp and the scope of the destruction are conveyed completely, but with understatement. Unfortunately, there are Holocaust stories to suit every taste, including some so graphically horrible that they raise the question of who reads them and why. This book would serve as an excellent introduction to this terrible subject; it deserves to become standard reading.
Together with her astoundingly tough mother, Brewster survived Birkenau (the great extermination camp of the Auschwitz complex) by getting job after job in its vast service industry. They started out in the massive clothing distribution centre, ironically called “Canada,” and ended up as servants in the SS women’s quarters. I’ve never read a personal account that covers so much ground within Auschwitz, describing its workings. By contrast, Fania Fenelon’s brilliant book, Playing With Time is about a small group of women segregated to form an orchestra. Brewster even comes face to face with the famous “Angel of Death,” Dr. Mengele, who is seeking subjects for his sadistic experiments. She is lucky not to be selected.
Sheer luck is the reason most Holocaust memoirs exist. They are full of absurd lucky breaks and coincidences. At the end of Vanished in Darkness comes an incident which would be naive wish-fulfillment were this fiction. Working with the Allies, Brewster helps capture an SS woman she remembers from Auschwitz in a forest in the Rhineland. The woman once threw her mother down a staircase. Brewster gets to interrogate this woman before her execution, and listen to her plead. In a television drama, this would be intolerable. In a true story (and yes, I believe it is true) there is satisfaction in such an ending — although perhaps only for the reader, and not for the author.