They say that a true journalist, after following and experiencing wars, conflicts, terrorist massacres, grief, hypocrisy, violence, becomes impervious to everything. Not true. Indeed, almost always a fake.
At my no longer tender age, when I was asked for an article on the beautiful book The kingdom of Auschwitz by Otto Friedrich, a great American journalist, which comes out on January 26 on newsstands with the Corriere della Sera, close to the Day of Remembrance, I felt a very strong thrill. I stiffened before accepting, because in that extermination camp, which I visited four times, I lived for three days one of the most distressing experiences of my life: professional, but above all human.
With my colleague Alessia Rastelli, we had received from the director then, Ferruccio de Bortoli, the task of telling, in a web-series, the dramatic story of Vera Vigevani Jarach, the woman who in her life lived through two horrendous tragedies: the deportation to Auschwitz of her grandfather, who was immediately sent to gas , and then the murder of his daughter Franca, who in Buenos Aires had dared to challenge the criminal dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. Franca was thrown alive into the Ro de la Plata by one of the death planes, a fate that the Fascist-Piduist general reserved for the regime’s opponents.
The docu-web, which later became a film directed by Marco Bechis, had as its title The noise of memory. For this reason, with Vera, Bechis and the film crew, we moved to Auschwitz for three days. It was December, freezing cold. Every morning we woke up as if we were hallucinating. I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t get rid of the smell of death. Every now and then I heard shots. A night hunt was probably in progress. But that smell of dead and burnt flesh, annihilated by the Zyklon B gas, passed the hermetically sealed window of my room. Maybe it was just a terrible suggestion.
That is why Otto Friedrich’s book-truth is a painful blade, which tells the story of an infamy, which some ignorant or imbecile continues to deny. In the preface to the book, Paolo Mieli manages to penetrate all the questions posed by Friedrich’s book. I share the idea that this is the most convincing synthetic text on the Shoah. a book that honors serious, concrete and rigorous journalism.
Auschwitz, then directed by the German criminal Rudolf Hss, was the first concentration camp, which later became an extermination camp, outside Germany, that is, in Polish territory occupied by the Nazis. It quickly became the temple of horror.
For professional, but above all human interest, I visited the first camp ever, that of Dachau, not far from Munich, and then that of Mauthausen in Austria, where I stopped for hours three times, along the road to reach Bratislava, via Vienna, to meet Valeria, the Slovakian girl I fell in love with during the Prague Spring years. A caretaker from Mauthausen had even shown me the peephole from which the Nazi tormentors followed, excited and enjoying, the suffering of the deportees, especially Jews. Really awful and unforgettable.
The kingdom of Auschwitz re-proposes the wound and tells, with extraordinary effectiveness, the history of the camp from 1940 to 1945. These dates are fundamental because between their parentheses we learn about the changes and contradictions on the life of the concentration camp. In short, we fully understand what many deniers continue to support. They say: Don’t you know that in Auschwitz-Birkenau there were even a football field and a swimming pool? all true, but at the beginning the two fields, practically connected, housed the ramshackle and abandoned barracks of an Austrian artillery barracks. At first, before Himmler’s visit, it was planned to fix them and make them a place of prison for Russians and Poles. Until it was decided to bring together the Jews of all the occupied territories to give way to the final solution.
Prisoners were initially annihilated with gas that for the torturers considered it too expensive. When the cheaper Zyklon B was reached, after various experiments, the crematoria were built in Birkenau, then photographed by allied aircraft, before the liberation. In the two camps, which had become the capital of extermination, they were gassed, and the smoke caused by the ashes rose from the chimneys, at least three and a half million human beings.
In reality, as Friedrich tells us, in Auschwitz-Birkenau there were three zones: one controlled by the SS; then the hospital, almost a free zone, but also a laboratory to support the experiments of Josef Mengele, who hummed operas while dissecting corpses; and finally a place called Canada, which was the market of shame, where precious objects, gold teeth, clothes and shoes of the victims were sold or exchanged in exchange for food.
But there is another truth in the Kingdom of Auschwitz. With Alessia Rastelli we interviewed dozens of survivors for the docu-web Save by chance on Corriere-Tv. Yes, just by chance.
Nedo Fiano, who had learned German thanks to insistence of his family, he was saved not because he spoke the language of the SS, but because he said he was from Florence. The Nazi officer, who had visited the Tuscan capital with his fiancée or lover, took a liking to him and invited him to sing at the parties of the torturers.
Even more incredible is the story of Sami Modiano, now in the gas anteroom. He came on a train loaded with potatoes and the urgent need was to unload them. So he was taken to carry wagons of potatoes into the field and saved himself, changing his destiny.
That’s why anything could happen in Auschwitz. Reading Otto Friedrich’s book of fundamental importance. Especially for those who have the cult of doubt. But even those who have only certainties would have a lot to learn.
With the preface by Paolo Mieli. Keep alive the warning of the Shoah
Otto Friedrich’s book is out today in all newsstands with Corriere della Sera The kingdom of Auschwitz, opened with a preface by Paolo Mieli, at the price of e 7.90 plus the cost of the newspaper. This is an essay on the most important and famous Nazi extermination camp: our newspaper offers it to its readers on the occasion of the Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, a date that commemorates the release of prisoners locked up in the Auschwitz concentration camp thanks to the arrival of the Soviet troops, who broke down the gates of the camp, located in present-day Poland (then occupied by the Germans), precisely on January 27, 1945. The author of the book, born in 1929 and died in 1995, was one of the most prestigious American journalists, editor-in-chief of the Saturday Evening Post and contributor to the weekly Time. His essay, published in its original edition in 1982, traces the steps that led the Auschwitz concentration camp, set up in 1940 by the German invaders in Poland as a forced labor camp, to become the main extermination center for Jews with gas chambers after the Wannsee conference of January 1942, in which the Nazis decided to initiate the so-called Final Solution, ie the genocide of the entire people of Israel. Friedrich offers readers a detailed account of what happened in that place of death entrusted to the management of the SS commanded by Rudolf Hss, the ruthless German officer who after the war was sentenced to death and executed by the Polish authorities. A story that marks the most tragic point in the parable of the twentieth century.
January 25, 2021 (change January 26, 2021 | 21:21)