History Book Reviews

Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land

Today I want to take a moment to note the significance of this month because we are coming up on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a network of concentration and extermination camps operated by The Third Reich during World War II. On January 27th, 1944 the prisoners still at the camp were liberated by Soviet Troops. At that point many other prisoners had already been sent on their final death marches as allied forces stormed Germany.

Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land is a powerful collection of vignettes that detail the horrible conditions of concentration camps during the Holocaust. Nomberg-Przytyk recounts her days working as a clerk in the Auschwitz hospital under the command of the infamous Josef Mengele. Each of the stories in the collection are a mix of Nomberg-Przytyk’s experiences and some stories told to her by her fellow prisoners. Readers are given a disturbingly intimate look into what daily camp life was like before, during, and at the end of the war.

“We all crouched in our bunks, frightened, helpless in the face of the mass murder that was to take place before our very eyes. No one cried out, nobody wept.”

I especially loved the short story format for the purposes of recounting history because it provides a multifaceted view of the Holocaust. Nomberg-Przytyk’s skill at story telling makes these stories feel like fiction, which is what makes the realities of the Holocaust that much more horrifying. It honestly borders on being so inhumane it’s unbelievable and it becomes difficult to determine what parts of the stories are fact and which parts are fiction, an issue for a non-fiction history book. Despite that this is still one of the most important books I had ever read on the subject and it’s one I can never forget.

Memoirs are one of the most important primary sources that we have for understanding and remembering the Holocaust and the gravity of it’s impact on humanity. The writing in this memoir is clear and the language is simple, it is extremely easy to pick up and follow along with, something that I’ve had an issue with while reading other memoirs. Overall, for those interested in learning more about the Holocaust or just want to feel awful in general then I highly recommend this book. It’s eye opening and jarring but is a sobering reminder of the depths of human depravity.

Title: Auschwitz: True Tales From a Grotesque Land
Author: Sara Nomberg-Przytyk
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication Date: July 1985
Number of Pages: 197
Format: Ebook
Source: Purchased / For Class

“From the moment I got to Auschwitz I was completely detached. I disconnected my heart and intellect in an act of self-defense, despair, and hopelessness.” With these words Sara Nomberg-Przytyk begins this painful and compelling account of her experiences while imprisoned for two years in the infamous death camp. Writing twenty years after her liberation, she recreates the events of a dark past which, in her own words, would have driven her mad had she tried to relive it sooner. But while she records unimaginable atrocities, she also richly describes the human compassion that stubbornly survived despite the backdrop of camp depersonalization and imminent extermination.

Commemorative in spirit and artistic in form, Auschwitz convincingly portrays the paradoxes of human nature in extreme circumstances. With consummate understatement Nomberg-Przytyk describes the behavior of concentration camp inmates as she relentlessly and pitilessly examines her own motives and feelings. In this world unmitigated cruelty coexisted with nobility, rapacity with self-sacrifice, indifference with selfless compassion. This book offers a chilling view of the human drama that existed in Auschwitz.

From her portraits of camp personalities, an extraordinary and horrifying profile emerges of Dr. Josef Mengele, whose medical experiments resulted in the slaughter of nearly half a million Jews. Nomberg-Przytyk’s job as an attendant in Mengle’s hospital allowed her to observe this Angel of Death firsthand and to provide us with the most complete description to date of his monstrous activities.

The original Polish manuscript was discovered by Eli Pfefferkorn in 1980 in the Yad Vashem Archive in Jerusalem. Not knowing the fate of the journal’s author, Pfefferkorn spent two years searching and finally located Nomberg-Przytyk in Canada. Subsequent interviews revealed the history of the manuscript, the author’s background, and brought the journal into perspective.


  1. Shruti

    Starting with Anne Frank, I’ve always been drawn towards memoirs of people from Nazi Germany. I believe this is one part of history that everyone needs to know. Thanks for reviewing this book. I’m definitely going to read it soon.

    1. I absolutely agree, the Holocaust was terrifying and is a grim reminder of how ugly humanity can be. I read this several years ago for a Holocaust & Memory class while working on my degree and it’s stayed with me ever since, it’s a sad but memorable collection.

      Thanks for stopping by Shruti!

  2. How on earth have I gone my whole life without hearing about this book?! I love short stories– particularly when dealing with complicated, complex, and overdone topics. I find the form lends itself well to sharing diverse perspectives which giving the reader juuuust enough to have something to chew on. I’ve definitely added this to my TBR. Great review, Jamie!
    Jackie B. recently posted…#AnneReadAlong2017 : Rilla of InglesideMy Profile

    1. This is a bit of a rare read, I am eternally thankful to my professor because he assigned a lot of amazing books on the Holocaust. I also agree 100% that I love short stories, it’s one of my favorite forms of writing. I think you’ll definitely enjoy this one since you’re a fan of both historical fiction and non-fiction and am glad to share the love!

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