Sunday, January 6, 2013
The Thief of Auschwitz by Jon Clinch
I've always been fascinated with the holocaust, probably since I read The Diary of Anne Frank. And whenever I get a chance to read a new book about it, I usually take the opportunity. This was pretty much a normal story. We hear a bit about life before the camps, and then we end up with life in the camp. Life is miserable as always. They lose all their belongings, get their heads shaved, and the men are separated from the women, and the children are separated as well, basically sent to die as soon as they reach the concentration. The story is about Max's family. His father, mother, and sister. His father used to be the best barber in the area where they lived. His mother was a great artist. But once they get to the camp, of course, all that is gone. And his sister Lydia is gone as soon as they reach the camp. Max lasts because his father sees that kids going to the one side, probably aren't making it. So he tells Max to lie about his age, Max is tall, so he is able to pass. Max and his father have no idea about Eidel or Lydia. Eidel, his mother, assumes that Max was lost too. And one day she chooses to send a message to Max's father, Jacob, to ask him how they will live without their kids. It is at this point that she finds out Max lived. Jacob learns of what could be called the cushier jobs, and begins to try to get the job of cutting the Nazi officer's hair, and getting the easier job. Up until then he and Max have been digging a huge ditch that they're told is to connect to a new women's camp. Hard labor. Eidel has been working in the kitchen in the women's camp. At one of the officer's houses, the painting of Lydia is hanging, and when Jacob sees it, he almost loses it. Soon the officer talks about how he wishes he could find someone to paint a portrait of his family that is as great as this one. When Max is in an accident and breaks his leg, Jacob sees a way to possibly save him from being taken to die now that he can no longer work. He tells the officer that it was his wife who painted the portrait and asks for a chance to take care of his son. The officer gives him the chance and brings Eidel to the house. When Eidel sees the portrait, she faints, and tells them that it was her daughter. Well of course the German family doesn't want a portrait of a Jew hanging in their house, so even though they get her to do the painting, they take the portrait down and send it back to the store where they found it. Max is given time to heal and almost really special treatment because of his mother doing the portrait. But it soon turns that Eidel is having problems painting the portrait, it's been so long, not to mention these are the enemies. So while she paints a good portrait when she is there, at night she sketches what she really feels with them, creating monstrous evil people in her bunk. One day it gets out that she has done this, all the way up to the officer, and he is so angry that he burns the bunkhouse down. While he is having Eidel finish the portrait. Jacob is now sure his family won't have long to live after she's done. So, he encourages Max to escape. And Max does leave, but not without stealing the painting from the store first. He goes off and becomes a painter/artist in his own right. And interjected within the story are the modern day chapters about him getting ready to have his own big retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington DC.
The story was what you'd expect. Reading about the camp and horrors and way of life there was interesting as usual. Interesting and horrifying. But the way they did the Max "present day" chapters mixed in was confusing at times. It took my mind a minute to readjust. I think part could be due to reading it as an e-book, and that maybe in an actual physical book where you can see the actual pages separating them it wouldn't be so bad. And there's this part where he talks about an Uncle's paintings in the present day, that kind of seemed a little unnecessary to the story, in my eyes anyway. A quick read, and one that people who often read about the holocaust will probably want to read. The title is a bit misleading, as I expected an actual story about a thief. And really I think the only true theft was the painting being stolen at the very end, and this was after Max had left Auschwitz.