All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen by Bernice Lerner
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Today, April 21 is Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, aka Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. I commemorate it with posting Shoah related books.
On April 15, 1945, Brigadier H. L. Glyn Hughes entered Bergen-Belsen for the first time. Waiting for him were 10,000 unburied, putrefying corpses and 60,000 living prisoners, starving and sick. One month earlier, 15-year-old Rachel Genuth arrived at Bergen-Belsen; deported with her family from Sighet, Transylvania, in May of 1944, Rachel had by then already endured Auschwitz, the Christianstadt labor camp, and a forced march through the Sudetenland. In All the Horrors of War, Bernice Lerner follows both Hughes and Genuth as they move across Europe toward Bergen-Belsen in the final, brutal year of World War II.
The book begins at the end: with Hughes’s searing testimony at the September 1945 trial of Josef Kramer, commandant of Bergen-Belsen, along with forty-four SS (Schutzstaffel) members and guards. “I have been a doctor for thirty years and seen all the horrors of war,” Hughes said, “but I have never seen anything to touch it.” The narrative then jumps back to the spring of 1944, following both Hughes and Rachel as they navigate their respective forms of wartime hell until confronting the worst: Christianstadt’s prisoners, including Rachel, are deposited in Bergen-Belsen, and the British Second Army, having finally breached the fortress of Germany, assumes control of the ghastly camp after a negotiated surrender. Though they never met, it was Hughes’s commitment to helping as many prisoners as possible that saved Rachel’s life.
Drawing on a wealth of sources, including Hughes’s papers, war diaries, oral histories, and interviews, this gripping volume combines scholarly research with narrative storytelling in describing the suffering of Nazi victims, the overwhelming presence of death at Bergen-Belsen, and characters who exemplify the human capacity for fortitude. Lerner, Rachel’s daughter, has special insight into the torment her mother suffered. The first book to pair the story of a Holocaust victim with that of a liberator, All the Horrors of War compels readers to consider the full, complex humanity of both.
Year first published: 2020