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Shavelings in Death Camps: A Polish Priest's…

Shavelings in Death Camps: A Polish Priest's Memoir of Imprisonment by the… (1948)

by Henryk Maria Malak

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“Shavelings in Death Camps” is the autobiography of Father Henryk Malak, a Polish Priest who resided in Poland during 1939. Father Malak’s story begins shortly before the 1939 invasion of Poland and ends shortly after the liberation of Dachau. Father Malak was “liberated” in Dachau and spent many years as a prisoner there. Prior to ending up in Dachau, Father Malak was imprisoned in other death camps. This book would clearly be the most definitive work on what it were like to be imprisoned in a German Concentration Camp except for a few issues.

First, let me express my heartfelt thanks to Bozenna J. Tucker and Thomas R. Tucker for translating this significant work into English. It is indeed fortunate to history and the future of mankind that such works are being preserved to help inform people about our past.

Second, I ask that the following words not be taken as criticism of the Tucker’s efforts. I have nothing but the highest praise for their undertaking. However, two editions of “Shavelings in Death Camps” have been printed. The first, and probably most important work, was printed in German in 1948 while the second edition, the one which was translated and printed in English, was a revised first edition and printed around 1961.

Ideally, I wish the Tuckers would have translated and published both editions in English. It is important for me to be honest and note that I have not read the 1948 edition. More importantly, my next statements are based on my personal experience with different translations, revised editions, and subsequent publications of literary works over time. It has been my experience that literature published closest to any given event is generally the most accurate available, especially when it concerns an experience as horrific as imprisonment in a concentration camp. It has also been my experience that a revision generally changes the original content to confirm with peer pressure and often distorts the truth to support a particular agenda. In the case of the Holocaust, it is unfortunately always clear to the informed what that revised agenda ultimately supports. Finally, I have personally bought identical literature published over time simply to compare the content and find that the work has been too often altered to conform to the language of the time and has lost the original “flavor” because of this alteration. I offer these observations simply because Father Malak acknowledges the same via several similar statements in his second edition.

With the above said, what makes this book a pleasure to read is the honesty of Father Malak. Of course, I am not a sadist and would like the reader of my review to understand that what Father Malak experienced was pure torture. However, I was shocked to read that many prisoners shipped to Dachau from Auschwitz believed that Dachau was a wonderful place to be sentenced and that many former Auschwitz prisoners even considered the Auschwitz Camp Commandant to be a wonderful and caring person. This certainly confounded the Dachau prisoners as the Auschwitz Camp Commandant who was being praised was the former Dachau Camp Commandant who was responsible for imposing "death" camp like conditions on the Dachau prisoners.

This book will shock the reader with many startling revelations. For example, what is clear from Father Malak's autobiography is that the conditions of Dachau were without a doubt a function of the Camp Commandant, the fellow prisoners assigned as camp leaders that were responsible for the overwhelming majority of the atrocities, and the availability of resources as a function of the war's impact upon German logistics. At this point, it is important to note that more prisoners died of starvation and typhus which resulted from the Allied "terror bombing", an irrefutable Crime Against Humanity that has gone unpunished for too long, than any other condition in Dachau.

The need to read the first edition of the book is made necessary because the second edition contains many of the Holocaust myths fabricated at the Nuremburg Trials immediately following the war. It would be nice to see if these myths were written about in the first edition and to determine if they were not added in the second edition based on Father Malak’s knowledge of the Nuremburg Trials and subsequent testimony about the Concentration Camps, not to mention the peer pressure he endured. For example, the existence of soap made from Jewish fat, as claimed by Father Malak in his second edition, never existed.

Finally, what I found amazing was how the quality of life significantly increased in Dachau around 1941 only to decline significantly during the last six months of the war because of the breakdown of the logistical system in Nazis Germany. As “Shavelings in Death Camps” is an important historical work, I hope readers will remember to compare the conditions of Dachau and the lack of human rights for Dachau prisoners with the USA's treatment of prisoners as part of its War on Terror or the USA Concentration Camps for American citizens of Japanese descent during World War 2. Of course, the informed reader will understand that the term "concentration camp" originated with the British during the Second Boer War in Africa. Informed people will also understand that the Nazis government made no secret of the fact that their concentration camps were modeled after the British "concentration camps" that were "effectively" operated during 1900-1902 and helped the British to win the Second Boer War. It is important to end my review by noting that a description of a "good quality of life" is something which is and was never reported in a British "concentration camp" despite the fact that logistics was never an issue for the British during the Second Boer War. ( )
  Taurus454 | Jun 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Henryk Malak was a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps for about six years. Soon after the war, he wrote his account of the experiences of himself and his fellow prisoners. Many people will find the subject matter difficult, especially since Malak goes into a good bit of detail. I recommend this book in particular for those interested in Dachau (where he was imprisoned over a long period of time) or in the persecution of Catholic priests during the Holocaust. I also recommend it to anyone who is interested in hearing the stories of those who survived the Holocaust. ( )
  royalsapphire | Mar 11, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The story of one Polish priest sent to a Nazi concentration camp during WWII and what he witnessed during that time. How much horror this one man saw and lived to write about does not even begin to describe what really happened during this time frame in history. ( )
  virg144 | Mar 1, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'll start by saying it's hard to write a review of a memoir like this. How does one who has not had similar experiences pass judgment on this type of work?

In this book Father Malak tells the story of his capture in Poland by the Nazis and his journey through concentrations camps to Dachau where he spent then most time and was finally liberated. He tells the story of a group not normally mentioned when people talk about the Holocaust: Polish priests. His group from Inowroclaw traveled through Gorna Grupa, Gdansk, Stutthof, Grenzdorf, Sachsenhausen, and finally to Dachau, where they were classified as ‘political prisoners’. The transfers from place to place were scary: “A human being is a curious creature. He can come to love even a death camp… In the context of the mysterious unknown to which we’re heading, even Stutthof leaves behind the feeling of a ‘home’ that’s been lost.” (p72) In each location he tells of the horrors they were subjected to in graphic detail. This is not a book for anyone with a weak stomach. “If I had… not experienced this myself… [taking] part in sport five full days in a row, running, jumping, rolling and crawling (without interruption) from early morning to dinner and from dinner to evening, it would be hard for me to believe.” (p111) “Even so it’s difficult to believe what hatred is capable of inventing!” (p253)

This book was first published in Polish in 1948. This first English translation was based on the second edition published in 1961. He wrote this memoir to keep alive the memory of those who did not survive, giving long lists of Polish names. Besides the events in the camp, in the second edition he adds events from the war which gives context to life in the camps. Chapters have endnotes that give added information or sources for the text. The back also includes an extensive bibliography. While in the camp he learned German and read extensively, so many of the sources are German in origin. His friend Zdzich told him, “if you want to write about them sometime, you have to get to know them very well. You won’t learn about them or their… culture or ideology without knowing their language.” (p288)

Having been to Dachau, it was fascinating to match his descriptions to my memories. Some of what he wrote contradicts what I was told and I am more apt to believe Father Malak. I wish I had had this book when I did my research on Nazi concentration camps.

Father Malak wrote this memoir to tell the story of a group overlooked by historians: Polish priests. He wanted to keep the memory of his colleagues alive. He points out numerous times that he can only speak for himself and his barracks, not for what was happening to others, but he sees that the Jews have things worse than anyone else. He doesn’t want to encourage people to hate Germans. “If there’s anything I want to present in a true light, against a background of historical events, it’s godless Nazism. Humanity must realize that all ‘isms’ – Nazism, Fascism, and Communism – which make the state a deity and trample the individual human being… will lead to the very results that Hitlerism produced.” (p93)

Full of graphic details, this book is not for the faint of heart, but us a good resource for day to day camp life and barbaric tortures the human psyche is capable of. It is also a testament to how much a person, a people, a nation can withstand when faced with deplorable treatment and conditions. ( )
  sailorfigment | Feb 13, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, he arrested hundreds (and later thousands) of Polish priests including the author and sent them to concentration camps in Germany. Most of the priests died of hunger and abusive treatment, but the author survived to come to America after the war. He spend time in Sachsenhausen and other camps, but spent most of the war years in Dachau.
The author found a great deal of difference in how different groups of prisoners were treated with the worst treatment accorded to Jews, but with treatment of Polish priests and Polish intellectuals not a great deal better.
This is an important book despite whole paragraphs of difficult (for English-speakers) names of Polish priests who died at different times. Most of us need to be reminded that it was not just Jews who suffered from Nazi abominations. The author survived five and a half years of imprisonment only because he was young and happened, after two years, to be put in a job at Dachau that was classified as a part of war production. For a religious skeptic such as myself, part of the book's appeal is how these experiences of horror tested or confirmed the faith of so many priests in a benevolent diety. Books containing such scenes of torture and horrible death are not pleasant to read, but this one certainly held my interest. ( )
  Illiniguy71 | Feb 9, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Malak, Henryk Mariaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tucker, Bozenna J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tucker, Thomas R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my colleagues whose ashes were scattered about crematoriums by the wind,

I dedicate this work.—Fr. Henryk Maria Malak
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One always remembers his first love.
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