Death March Escape by Jack J. Hersch

5 Stars

Publisher: Frontline Books

Date of publication: January 19th, 2019

Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Memoirs

Where to find Death March Escape: Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Goodreads synopsis:

In June 1944, the Nazis locked eighteen-year-old Dave Hersch into a railroad boxcar and shipped him from his hometown of Dej, Hungary, to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the harshest, cruelest camp in the Reich. After ten months in the granite mines of Mauthausen’s nearby sub-camp, Gusen, he weighed less than 80lbs, nothing but skin and bones.

Somehow surviving the relentless horrors of these two brutal camps, as Allied forces drew near Dave was forced to join a death march to Gunskirchen Concentration Camp, over thirty miles away. Soon after the start of the march, and more dead than alive, Dave summoned a burst of energy he did not know he had and escaped. Quickly recaptured, he managed to avoid being killed by the guards. Put on another death march a few days later, he achieved the impossible: he escaped again.

Dave often told his story of survival and escape, and his son, Jack, thought he knew it well. But years after his father’s death, he came across a photograph of his father on, of all places, the Mauthausen Memorial’s website. It was an image he had never seen before – and it propelled him on an intensely personal journey of discovery.

Using only his father’s words for guidance, Jack takes us along as he flies to Europe to learn the secrets behind the photograph, secrets his father never told of his time in the camps. Beginning in the verdant hills of his father’s Hungarian hometown, we travel with Jack to the foreboding rock mines of Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps, to the dust-choked roads and intersections of the death marches, and, finally, to the makeshift hiding places of his father’s rescuers. We accompany Jack’s every step as he describes the unimaginable: what his father must have seen and felt while struggling to survive in the most abominable places on earth.

In a warm and emotionally engaging story, Jack digs deeply into both his father’s life and his own, revisiting – and reflecting on – his father’s time at the hands of the Nazis during the last year of the Second World War, when more than mere survival was at stake – the fate of humanity itself hung in the balance.

My review:

It is rare that I read nonfiction. It is even rarer that I review it. I do make an exception for anything written about WW2 and the Holocaust. When I was approached by the publisher to review Death March Escape, I accepted without hesitation.

This book was haunting. Excellent but haunting. The author did a fantastic job of telling the story of his father’s escapes from 2 different points of views. The first being his father’s point of view. The second being his. Jack’s story was intertwined with his father. He would write about the Seder where his father told him the story of his escapes. Then he would write about what he did. His journey to Mauthausen and Gusen. His following of his father’s escape routes. It was amazing to read. I don’t like it when a book does that. But, in this book, it worked.

There are some brutal scenes in this book. This book will make you cry. From the minute Jack’s father is separated from his mother to the scene where he is liberated, I cried. Like Jack, I did wonder at how this 17/18-year-old boy survived mentally. Like Jack, I came to the conclusion that he had to disassociate from everything that he was seeing/experiencing. That is the only way he survived.

I also had tears during Jack’s part of the book. He had grown up with tales of his father’s imprisonment. It wasn’t until he actually went to Mauthausen and Gusen that he understood exactly what his father went through. Those were some of the toughest scenes to read. Knowing what he did, seeing the concentration camps and then realizing that his father glossed over what happened. My heart broke for him.

This was not an easy book to read. Nothing that is written about the Holocaust is. But, it needs to be read. That way future generations can learn.

I would give Death March Escape an Adult rating. There is no sex. There is violence. There is some mild language. There are trigger warnings. They would be concentration camps, separation of family, the death of parents, the death of siblings and extreme cruelty. I would recommend that no one under the age of 21 read this book.

I would reread Death March Escape. I would also recommend this book to family and friends.

I would like to thank the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review Death March Escape.

All opinions stated in this review of Death March Escape are mine.