Culture

'Last Stop Auschwitz': A Story of Survival Written Inside the Belly of the Beast

'Last Stop Auschwitz': A Story of Survival Written Inside the Belly of the Beast
Ruins of a gas chamber-crematorium facility at Auschwitz-Birkenau, known as Krematorium II, November 2015. (Courtesy: Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

As we approach the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, many books, documentaries and articles are appearing about “history’s darkest chapter.”

The book “Last Stop Auschwitz: My Story of Survival From Within the Camp,” set for release momentarily, will certainly become one the more defining accounts of the horrors and inhumanities perpetrated by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

'Last Stop Auschwitz': A Story of Survival Written Inside the Belly of the Beast
Eddy de Wind’s ‘Last Stop Auschwitz,’ published in English. (courtesy)

It will be so because it is perhaps the only Holocaust death camp account written ‘in situ,’ in ‘real time’ and not affected by fading or inaccurate memories, not influenced by stories or reports learned afterwards.

This author has already written a couple of narratives about the book written by Eddy de Wind, originally published in Dutch in a very limited edition in 1946 and now being published in nearly a dozen languages around the world.

'Last Stop Auschwitz': A Story of Survival Written Inside the Belly of the Beast
1946 Edition of “Last Stop Auschwitz”

But now, the book is being reviewed and lauded by those who are intimately familiar not only with the Shoah but also with its aftermath and its historical and human impact.

One of them is Times of Israel journalist Matt Lebovic who has been writing about the Holocaust for the Times since 2012 and, through his work at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, founded “Together, Restoring their Names,” a Holocaust memory service-learning project for students.

With poignant and very personal contributions by Eddy de Wind’s son, Melcher de Wind, Lebovic provides an intimate and compelling insight not only into Eddy’s experiences at the largest extermination camp in Nazi Germany, but also on the impact his imprisonment had on Eddy de Wind and on his family.

'Last Stop Auschwitz': A Story of Survival Written Inside the Belly of the Beast
Eddy de Wind at age 70 (courtesy: Melcher de Wind)

The following are excerpts from his piece in The Times of Israel:

Not knowing whether he would fall into Russian, German, or other hands, the Dutch-Jewish de Wind used the pen name Hans van Dam. The book is a montage of the camp’s brutalities set against de Wind’s love for Friedel, his wife who was imprisoned a few yards away from him in the notorious “Block 10.”

In his book, de Wind wrote about the smell of “searing flesh” emanating from the Auschwitz I crematorium chimney, and how it affected his mindset.

“You are tired sick and disgusted with yourself, because you are a human being and because an SS-man is also a ‘human being,’” wrote de Wind.

De Wind family members see the book’s publication in English as the fulfillment of a promise de Wind made in January of 1945, when he encountered a young Dutch woman named Roosje in the snowy fields around Auschwitz. The camp had just been liberated, and people were searching for food, medicine, and news of loved ones.

“They will never believe us in Holland when we come back and tell them all this,” said Roosje, who had escaped from a death march. Prior to that, she watched her mother die of starvation and was forced to bury her.

“We will make ourselves believable, there will be official reports that will prove the truth of our stories,” said de Wind. “And if someone still doesn’t believe it, I will ask them: Where then is my mother, my father, my brothers, and the other tens of thousands.”

While de Wind worked in the medical barracks, Friedel was imprisoned in the notorious “Block 10.” Inside, SS “physicians” conducted horrifying experiments on women, supposedly in line with Nazi racial theories to increase German breeding power while sterilizing non-Aryan races.

During this time, the couple maintained contact by passing notes through a barbed wire fence between their barracks. Both of the prisoners had interactions with the notorious Josef Mengele, including when Eddy de Wind was asked by Mengele which infectious diseases were present at Westerbork.

During the final days of Auschwitz’s existence, de Wind saw his wife leave on one of the death marches heading west toward Germany. He wrote about the experience afterwards in the third-person:

“…He had her image still before his eyes. That vision would always stay with him,” wrote de Wind. “She would continue to exist within him, she would not have lived for nothing and her soul would live through him, although her body rests there in those hazy blue mountains.”

'Last Stop Auschwitz': A Story of Survival Written Inside the Belly of the Beast
Newlywed couple Eddy and Friedel de Wind, seated, after their marriage ceremony at the Dutch transit camp Westerbork, and before their deportation to Auschwitz (courtesy: Times of Israel/Melcher de Wind)

When de Wind came back to the Netherlands in 1945, he was reunited with Friedel. Despite his fears, she had not perished in one of the death marches from Auschwitz. ::

Eddy de Wind’s marriage did not stand the test of time. During the years he and Friedel were together, he treated many survivors of Nazi camps. From this work, de Wind developed theories to explain the plight of survivors.

In 1949, de Wind introduced the term “concentration camp syndrome” in an essay about the “psychological consequences of persecution.” Known as “KZ Syndrome” in German, the condition involves “post-camp pathological after-effects” unique to former prisoners of Nazi camps.

Throughout his life, de Wind believed in “pure coincidence” when it came to his survival, as opposed to divine intervention or fate. He also came to believe there was no way to shield the children of survivors from what their parents endured, at least not fully.

As de Wind and other clinicians learned long after the war, concentration camp syndrome did not fully manifest itself until about 30 years after liberation. As such, the children of survivors could not escape the Holocaust’s aftermath, despite many parents’ attempts to share as little as possible about the past.

Not only did Eddy de Wind suffer from “survivor’s guilt,” his son told The Times of Israel, but he was also afflicted with “victim envy,” said Melcher de Wind.

“For my father, survival must have felt like a punishment that he had survived and had to go through the pains of finding out whether someone maybe had survived, mourning, returning to The Netherlands and not feeling welcome anymore, trying to pick up your life again and dealing with his traumas,” said de Wind.

During the final days of Eddy de Wind’s life, his son witnessed part of the Holocaust’s psychological aftermath on his father. On his deathbed in a hospital, de Wind started to cry after learning that a patient in the next room had died.

“When I asked him why he cried, he said that it felt that because the other had died he was allowed to live at least one more day,” said Melcher de Wind. “It felt as if he had survived a selection in the camp. He had been treated by many doctors, but when he died, in his head he returned to Auschwitz.”

'Last Stop Auschwitz': A Story of Survival Written Inside the Belly of the Beast
Original manuscript of Last Stop Auschwitz (Courtesy Melcher de Wind)