I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – Thanks to them and Penguin UK- Michael Joseph for sending me a copy.
Title: The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz
Author: Jeremy Dronfield
Publisher: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph
Publication Date: 24th January 2019
The inspiring, true story of a father and son’s fight to stay together and to survive the Holocaust.
In 1939, Gustav Kleinmann, a Jewish upholsterer in Vienna, was seized by the Nazis. Along with his teenage son Fritz, he was sent to Buchenwald in Germany. There began an unimaginable ordeal that saw the pair beaten, starved and forced to build the very concentration camp they were held in.
When Gustav was set to be transferred to Auschwitz, a certain death sentence, Fritz refused to leave his side. Throughout the horrors they witnessed and the suffering they endured, there was one constant that kept them alive: the love between father and son.
Based on Gustav’s secret diary and meticulous archive research, this book tells his and Fritz’s story for the first time – a story of courage and survival unparalleled in the history of the Holocaust.
There are no words which can fully describe how important and powerful this story is. But I’m certainly going to do my best to express my own thoughts and encourage you all to read it. This is not an easy read, by any means, but a deeply vital and necessary one, difficult though it may be.
I’d just like to make it clear, which the writer Jeremy Dronfield also does: that this is a true story and everything within the book is factually accurate, down to the letters and threads of conversations within it. Throughout the book there are multiple footnotes as well as an extensive index at the end of the novel with all the references. It is an impeccably researched novel and I appreciate the effort and dedication this must have taken, as well as the emotional toll.
Before the story of Gustav and Fritz really begins, there is a touching foreword by the youngest member of the Kleinmann family, Kurt Kleinnmann who expresses that his families story must never be forgotten and the importance of keeping it alive. He also expresses his gratitude to the writer, Jeremy Dronfield for compiling this story and bringing it to public attention. This alone brought tears to my eyes and it sets the tone for this heartbreaking but inspiring tale of human strength and the unwavering love between a father and his son.
The book follows the Kleinmann family, a Jewish family who live in Vienna just prior to the German invasion of Poland and the horrifying events which follow. Over time each member of the family is separated and goes through different trials and tribulations. Primarily the narrative follows Gustav and Fritz, as they are held captive in a number of concentration camps, starting from Buchenwald then finally to Auschwitz.
Honestly, I had to stop many times whilst reading, as I couldn’t even comprehend the experiences of so many people depicted in the book. The atrocities and cruelty goes beyond any limits. Through it all, hope remained. The sense of humanity and the desire to overcome even the most insurmountable obstacles was honestly inspiring and humbling to read about. Through so many near death experiences and the brutality of Buchenwald then Auschwitz, Gustav and Fritz manage to stay together and retain their compassion.
One of the most touching elements was the resilience and bonds formed between Gustav, Fritz and other individuals in the camps. In such dire circumstances, where there was such little to go around, they would find ways to share even these morsels and help others. It’s a testament to the power of humanity, and a deeply poignant one at that.
This book is also an important reminder that the Holocaust and the many people who lost their lives are not just faceless numbers. They were individuals, with families, hopes and dreams which were cruelly taken away. It depicts what life was like in the many camps but also what life was like for those on the outside, the fear and paranoia as well as the grief. Dronfield depicts the ill treatment so many faced, in a way which is not overly descriptive but shows the grim realities in an eye opening way, and how these experiences shaped so many lives.
It’s hard to believe at certain points that this is a true story, and one of the many that we must never forget. As someone who has studied both World Wars as well as the Holocaust extensively, it still educated me a lot about the full extent of the heartbreaking realities and taught me so much. This book hit especially hard because of the rising amount of Anti Semitism across the world to this day, which most recently resulted in an attack on a Synagogue in the US, where members of the Jewish community sadly lost their lives. I implore people to educate themselves and find it in themselves to be compassionate and understand history, learn from the past and come together.
Overall, I am extremely grateful to have read The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz and I will always carry the Kleinmann family and their story with me. This account has left me so incredibly moved. I will never forget the will and determination of Tini Kleinmann and her unrelenting efforts to get her children to safety, may she rest in peace. I will never forget the strength, kindess and love between Gustav and his beloved son, Fritz.
Until next time,