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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
If you’re not a fan of historical fiction but really enjoy reading about two people falling in love under difficult, even extraordinary circumstances, then don’t think twice about selecting Auschwitz Syndrome by Ellie Midwood as your next book. This is one of the most amazing stories about two people, Helena and Franz, who actually met when Helena was saved not once, but twice from the gas chambers at Auschwitz by Franz, an SS guard. Given who each of them was, why would Franz save Helena? How could they possibly fall in love and, believe it or not, eventually marry?
This is the novel’s unlikely, but true love story, but it is far from the only memory you will take away with you once you finish Auschwitz Syndrome. Many readers will find it impossible to erase Midwood’s depiction of what prisoners endured at Auschwitz...the brutality of the camp overseers, the incessant hunger and typhoid, the lies and deception, the stench of incinerated bodies, the incredible inhumanity...it’s all hard to stomach. Midwood has thoroughly researched the people, places, and events she presents in this book, much of which is based on eyewitness testimonies by survivors and documented in various books about Auschwitz. I urge you to read her research notes at the end of the book. There you will see how much of what you just finished reading actually happened to the real people in this story.
To help her tell this story, Midwood has set the unfolding of the facts in the Denazification Court, where psychiatrist Dr. Hoffman listens to and observes the actions and demeanors of Franz and his wife, Helena. Each takes turns telling the story from their side. Dr. Hoffman’s task is to determine whether Helena is testifying on Franz’s behalf out of love or fear. Her testimony and Dr. Hoffman’s conclusion is critical to Franz escaping prosecution. What does the court decide and was their decision the correct one? Don’t be surprised if you find yourself holding your breath as you rush to learn the verdict. In the realities it discloses, Auschwitz Syndrome is, at times, more horrifying than any fiction horror story could be. Midwood’s writing style is impeccable, a brilliant blend of description and dialogue, with true-to-life characters who capture your imagination, challenge your perceptions of human nature, and pull your emotions in every direction. Little wonder Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author. I cannot praise Auschwitz Syndrome and its author highly enough!