Saturday 26 October 2019

#BookReview — Auschwitz Syndrome: a Holocaust novel based on a true story (Women and the Holocaust Book 3) by Ellie Midwood #HistoricalFiction #WW2

Auschwitz Syndrome:
a Holocaust novel based on a true story
(Women and the Holocaust Book 3)
By Ellie Midwood

Germany, 1947.

A strange case scheduled for the Denazification Court lands on the desk of an American psychiatrist currently serving in Germany, Dr. Hoffman.

A former Auschwitz guard, Franz Dahler, is set to appear in court, and he has requested to bring the most unexpected witness to testify in his defense - one of his former inmates and current wife, Helena.

As soon as one of the newly emerging Nazi hunters and former Auschwitz inmate, Andrej Novák, recognizes the officer’s name, he demands a full investigation of Dahler’s crimes, claiming that the former SS man was not only abusing Helena in the camp but is also using her as a ploy to escape prosecution.

Silent, subdued, and seemingly dependent on her husband’s every word, Helena appears to be a classic victim of abuse, and possibly more of an aid to the prosecution instead of the defense.

As she begins giving her testimony, Dr. Hoffman finds himself more and more confused at the picture that gradually emerges before his eyes; a perpetrator is claimed to be the savior and the accuser, the criminal.

The better Dr. Hoffman gets to know each participant, the more he begins to question himself; whether he’s facing a most unimaginable love story, or a new and still-nameless psychological disorder affecting the very manner in which Helena sees the events of the past.

Partially based on a true story, this deeply psychological, haunting novel will take you back in time to the heart of Auschwitz and post-war Germany, and will keep you guessing the true motive of each side

"I so wish to wake up and realize that I only dreamed it all. The whole... But not you. I would have died if I woke up and didn't have you."

It was impossible. Forbidden. Austrian SS-Unterscharführer Franz Dahler has no right to even think of Helena Kleinová let alone fall in love with her. For his beloved is a Jewish Slovakian prisoner, and they are in Auschwitz which so happens to be the largest of the Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. And yet... Dahler can not help himself.

How dare he mention love in this place. How dare he. Helena Kleinová would *rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. There was only hatred in her heart for Dahler, or so she had thought. But in a place such as Auschwitz, where there is no sanctuary, no way out, some unexpected tenderness can, over time, change one's opinion. Love, it seems can be surprising as much as it is unwanted. It can be for the enemy. What love cannot be is contained and nor can it be controlled.

However, if anyone ever found out about their love, then the consequences... The consequences, like some tragic play, would end in death for them both.

But time marches carelessly on. The war is over. The Nuremberg Trials are over. American psychiatrist, Dr Hoffman, has been asked to attend a rather unusual case scheduled for the Denazification Court. Franz Dahler has been summoned to appear in court and Nazi hunter, Andrej Novák, wants a full investigation, for he and Dahler, know each other, for Novák was also at Auschwitz. Dahler is guilty of horrendous crimes against humanity, Novák is so sure of that.

But, to everyones surprise, Dahler requests to bring a witness to testify in his defence. This witness is a woman. This witness was, like Novák, at Auschwitz. This witness is his wife — Helena Dahler.

Auschwitz Syndrome: a Holocaust novel based on a true story (Women and the Holocaust Book 3) by Ellie Midwood is the deeply haunting novel that tells the intimate yet harrowing story of Helena Kleinová. Helena was spared from the gas chambers because she was pulled from the crowd of women assembled and forced to sing for Franz Dahler's birthday. It could have been any of the women who were waiting in line to be led to their death, but it wasn't. It had been her. Auschwitz Syndrome is very much Helena's story. And what a story it is.

Through Helena's eyes, we witness the horror, the fear, the struggle to survive, but also her unforgettable first love, who just so happened to be her sworn enemy. Words cannot express how deeply moving Helena's story is. Auschwitz Syndrome demands every emotion conceivable from the reader. I felt Helena's fear, her anguish, her total despair. But also, I experienced her conflicted emotions when it came to Dahler. She hates everything about him. His kind have murdered her people, and yet she is drawn to him in an unexplainable way until he becomes the very centre of her world. She could survive anything but losing him. This book had me in tears on more than one occasion not just because of the horrors that is Auschwitz, but because of the emotional vulnerability of Helena.

Midwood demonstrates through Helena, the grave emotional consequences of being a survivor. Helena is a broken young woman and one who will never completely recover from her ordeal. I was thoroughly moved by how Dahler takes care of her while they are in court. He is the most loving of men. Dahler will do absolutely anything for his Helena. Dahler is an anti-hero in one sense. He is who he is. He has used a whip on the inmates, he has done things that he is ashamed of, but he is no murderer. Dahler is as disturbed by what he witnesses as Helena is, but he was as trapped. He could not speak out. He could not do anything other than small acts of defiance — letting the women who were under his charge eat what food they find in the clothes they were sorting. He is in an impossible situation. He would prefer fighting at the front to this. However, when he falls in love with Helena, and he realises how dependent she becomes on him, Dahler is even more entangled in Auschwitz. He cannot leave this terrible place because if he does, who will protect her? I thought his portrayal was masterful. He really changes his outlook. Dahler allows himself the dangerous luxury of thinking, of seeing things through eyes that are no longer influenced by Nazi doctrine. He takes great personal risk to keep Helena safe, and I cannot help but admire him for that. I think Midwood has done Franz Wunsch justice in this portrayal. He was only 20 years old when he came to Auschwitz. It must have been truly horrendous to witness and be forced to partake in something so inhuman, and so devoid of compassion. There are no words to describe Auschwitz adequately or what it was like to have been an inmate there or, for that matter, a guard — for sometimes history forgets that not all Nazis were monsters.

Auschwitz and its renowned five smoking chimneys is not the place where one would expect to discover a tender and unforgettable romance, least of all between a SS guard and a Jewish inmate. But... Helena Kleinová (Helena Citrónová) and Kommandoführer Franz Dahler (Franz Wunsch) did find love in amongst the despair and the death of the most notorious Nazi extermination camps. Midwood has taken considerable care to stick to the historical facts of this remarkable and wholly unforgettable love story. Drawing on personal testimonials from Auschwitz, Midwood has penned a story that is as rich in historical accuracy as it is in emotional intensity. Auschwitz Syndrome, like Thomas Keneally's Schindlers Ark, does not gloss over the horrific realities of what went on in this camp. With regards to the court case, Midwood has for the sake of the story used a little poetic license and brought it forward in time. I can understand why she did this, and I do believe she made the right choice. If Midwood had stuck with the history of this case, then I fear the book might have become a little disjointed.

Midwood is a writer that I admire very much for her ability to bring her characters to life, to make them breathe, and grow, and develop. But this... This book, these characters, this story is without a doubt Midwood’s best work yet. Midwood has set the bar very high. This is what historical fiction is all about. You cannot get better than this. 

Auschwitz Syndrome — a play on words, perhaps, or maybe not. Maybe in the darkest of hours, in the least likely of places, love could indeed be found between a young Jewish woman and an SS guard. If ever a book deserved to be adapted for the big screen then it is this one. I, for one, would pay to see it.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
Auschwitz Syndrome

Ellie Midwood

Ellie Midwood is an award-winning, best-selling historical fiction writer. She's a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama.

Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.


Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) - "The Girl from Berlin: Standartenführer's Wife"

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) - "The Austrian"(honorable mention)

New Apple - 2016 Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing - "The Austrian"(official selection)

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2017) - "Emilia"

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2018) - "A Motherland's Daughter, A Fatherland's Son"

Connect with Ellie: 

Website • Amazon • Goodreads  • BookBub • Facebook.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx