- Andrew Gross
I reviewed a book about 18 months ago called The Death Heads Chess Club which was also set in Auschwitz, this book has something in common with that book, the game of chess. Chess features quite a bit but that is a side line to the real story which brings the three main characters of this book together.
Now I should imagine that 99.9% of you reading this have seen pictures of Auschwitz and the films which featured on such programmes as The World at War. Even now when camera crews film the empty camp it emits an aura of what pure evilness took place there. This book brings those pictures to life with great storytelling, putting you right within the camp amongst the poor pathetic beings and their monstrous guards, you can almost smell the putrid living quarters and the grey acrid smoke from the chimneys which hangs over the camp.
The title of the book, One Man. Who is this man? Well he is a young Lt serving in the US Army intelligence service, with a rather unique background. Born in Poland Nathan Blum is told by his family to escape to America he obviously doesn't wish to leave his family behind but his father explains that it will be for the best. Blum eventually manages to get to Sweden and from there onwards to Chicago where he has cousins, here he settles into life learning English until America joins the war. Blum then enlists and due to his background is placed in the intelligence arm working as an interpreter with the rank of Lt.
Blum gets word of his family been murdered in the Warsaw ghetto along with over a hundred other innocent Jews and craves for the chance to do more than sit in a darkened office all day translating reports into English.
Meanwhile the head of intelligence and Special Operations are desperately seeking a way of getting one man out of Auschwitz, a professor who is an expert in gasious defusion, which was a very important element in creating the bomb, the race was on and The Manhatten Project was struggling without the know how of this man, this man Proffesor Alfred Medle.
Now part of this fictional story also brings in a small bit of fact. Two prisoners did manage to escape from Auschwitz, these were then questioned and when show a picture of Mendle they confirmed he was indeed there, however that was two months ago. Two months was a very very long time in that place, he could well be dead by now, infact he most probably was taking into account his age.
So knowing that there was an outside chance that this man was in Auschwitz a plan was hatched to get him out.
Now how the hell do you get one man out of a place like that? Well the story unfolds, Blum who has put in a transfer request to see action and do more to avenge his family is the obvious man for the job, been of a rather slim build and with his genuine Polish accent he is called in and the plan put to him. He considers it over night, how the hell can he go back not only to Poland but break into that place? The next day only knowing that the future of the war may depend on the outcome of this operation Blum agrees.
So there you are, the basic outline of the story, one man to be dropped into Poland near the death camp and with the help of the Polish resistance he is smuggled into Auschwitz camp as part of a work detail. He has just 72 hours to get out with his man, 72 hours to find one man amongst thousands, how was he to carry out this impossible task?
I think that's enough of the story, reading the book you obviously know that Blum would take the job but you find yourself saying, “are you mad, I wouldn't do that, don't do it man“. Once there the author paints a vey vivid picture of life within the camp, and on more than one occasion, well several occasions he does get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. Certain chapters have you thinking “ oh no, not now, oh crap“.......the trouble is it almost forces you to read on and on even when you know you need to get on with other things or go to sleep. I finished this book a 1.45am this morning, I quite literally couldn't get to sleep so ended up putting the light back on, not once but twice! I just had to finish the book, it truly is a taught frightening thriller filled with evil, sadness, happiness and hope.
I'm going to be cheeky, this book isn't going to my local charity shop, it's going to be a Christmas Present.
A fantastic read and one I wholly do recommend. 5/5 Mushroom Heads.
At the end of the book the author has listed books on the subjects of The Manhatten Project, Auschwitz and The Holocaust.