The boy who followed his father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

The boy who followed his father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield is a true story, non-fiction book about a son and a father living in concentration camps during the Holocaust. I’ve been reading quite a few books about the Holocaust and this one is one of the best.

The boy who followed his father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

The book starts in 1938, when Austria was occupied (or annexed) by the Germans, called the Anschluss on 12th March. That part of the book is one of the most shocking, how neighbours and friends turned against the others, the Jews. It is easy to think of the Nazi and SS when it comes to Holocaust and ignore the wider anti-Semitic views of the population.

The story follows Gustav Kleinmann, a Viennese upholsterer, and his sixteen-year old son Fritz from 1939, when they were arrested by the SS. They were sent to Buchenwald in Germany and were forced to help build it, working in the stone quarry. In his first day in Buchenwald, Gustav started writing a diary and luckily, it survived and it is now an important piece of history.

Fritz learned building skills and his work was very important in the camp. When the Germans decided to remove all Jews from Germany, he was not on the list to be transported to Auschwitz due to his skills, but his father was. So he volunteered, so he could be with his father. Gustav was 50 at that time and being transported to Auschwitz might have meant a death sentence. Fritz’s friends tried to make him see that he was putting himself in danger, but still he volunteered.

The book is graphic and that is why it is so good. All those things happened, people actually went through them and died, we should be able to read about them, as both a tribute to them and as a wake-up call that these things might happen again (and still happen in some parts of the world).

Dronfield talks about what happened with the rest of the family. Tini, the mother, did what she could to help all of her children. The eldest daughter, Edith, escaped to United Kingdom in 1939. She made a family there, but it was not as easy as it seems. The ten year old Kurt was sent to the United States, when a judge offered to care for him and that loosened a bit the strings of Nazi bureaucracy and America’s reluctance to take refugees. He had a happy life. Meanwhile, Tini and her other daughter, Herta, were arrested in 1942, and were transported for Maly-Trostinets death camp near Minsk. They died there.

Fritz showed amazing courage in Auschwitz, asking for a job on a building site. He managed to make contacts with workers, including one who was a soldier, wounded on the eastern front. That soldier cried when he finally realized what happens and why they were imprisoned in the camp. He went on to smuggle food and even a few guns when Fritz persuaded him (he was paid for them).

As part of the resistance, Fritz was tortured by Gestapo officer Maximilian Grabner, the notorious Butcher of Block 11, the death block. He avoided execution when his friends helped him by swapping identities with a dead man. Both Gustav and Fritz started the Auschwitz death march, when the end of the war approached. Fritz fled alone, as Gustav couldn’t escape, didn’t have sufficient strength for it. Fritz was captured, suspected as being a British enemy spy (most likely as part of SOE – Special Operations Executive). He ended up in Mauthausen concentration camp.
At the same time Gustav ended up at Bergen-Belsen, both having slim chances of survival.
Both Gustav and Fritz survived incredible atrocities and they found each other, scarred after what they went through, but happy to be together again. Gustav died the day before his 85th birthday and Fritz died aged 85.

After the Holocaust, there were two trials of the Nazi, the Nuremberg trials in 1945-1946 and Dachau 1945-1947, and it stopped. The author says that in the 1950s, the Germans were raised on a cushion of lies, that most of the Jews emigrated and that there were atrocities on both sides of the war, Allies being as ruthless as the Germans. That stopped when the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials took place, in 1963-1965, due to the work of the German Jewish judge and prosecutor Fritz Bauer. Gustav and Fritz were among the ones giving statements to the trial. The result of the trials? Some were acquitted, others received sentences from three years to life.

In 1987, Fritz gave a public talk about his experience, he went on to write a short memoir.

The boy who followed his father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Michael Joseph
Year it was published: 2019
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): History
Pages: 416

About the author: Jeremy Dronfield is a biographer, historian, novelist, and archaeologist. Other books by Dronfield include The Alchemist’s Apprentice, The Locust Farm, Beyond the Call, Queer Saint – The Cultured Life of Peter Watson, and Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time.
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2 thoughts on “The boy who followed his father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield”

  • I read a fair amount of both novels and non-fiction on this period. This one sounds especially powerful and worth one’s time. I’d not heard of it, so thanks for the recommendation, Anca. (And by the way, the comment box happened to all by your instagram link with your marmelade cat! It so reminds me of my own Marmelade Gypsy who I miss so much!)

    • Aww, hugs xx.
      The cat is not mine, but one of the guests at the cat cafe I’ve been to. I’m going to share pictures from there on my lifestyle blog tomorrow. 🙂

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