Return to Auschwitz: The Remarkable Story of a Girl Who Survived the Holocaust

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Memoir by Kitty Hart, 1981

Return to Auschwitz (1981) was written in association with the prize-winning television documentary "Return to Auschwitz" (1979; also known as "Kitty—Return to Auschwitz). Like many Holocaust victims, Kitty Hart has retold her story. Much of the narrative is the same—in outline—as her previous account I Am Alive! (1961). There are, however, three general changes.

The first difference is that this account also tells of Hart's arrival and settling in England. After meeting Hart and her mother at Dover, her uncle says, "Before we go off to Birmingham, there's one thing I must make quite clear. On no account are you to talk about any of the things that have happened to you. Not in my house, I don't want my girls to know. And I don't want to know." When asked about the odd marks on her arm ("a laundry mark? … a boyfriend's number?"), she sometimes answers that it is her concentration camp number, and the "reaction was an awkward silence, as if I had said something terribly ill mannered." These stories set the tone for her immediate postwar experiences. After all that she has endured and now "in the light at the end of the tunnel," she is nearly overcome by despair and loneliness. However, with the help of a psychiatrist, who thought "there was nothing wrong with me, but a lot wrong with the other people concerned," and Dr. Brailsford, a radiographer who "adopted" and helped her, she begins training as a nurse and radiographer. In March 1949 Hart marries Ralph, who had escaped from Germany as a boy of 13 in 1939.

The second difference between the two accounts is the level of detail. Return to Auschwitz is more detailed and grimmer throughout than I Am Alive! From prewar Poland and its anti-Semitism to the horrors of the camps, this book covers the events more closely than the earlier, more straightforward narrative. If her first book was, to some extent, written for her sons as children, this is written for adults. It supplements her experiences with what has been learnt since 1945 and explores her memories in greater depth.

The third difference is that Return to Auschwitz is more reflective. For example, Hart discusses how she and her husband established their business, and how, while some firms were fair to deal with, others "profit from slave labour. The more prosperous they are, the more the demand from those who do the real creative work, and for a smaller fee. Just as the SS would demand so many gold rings from the ghetto inhabitants … so there are great organisation in the so-called free world demanding your souls and life-blood for the most meagre rations." She sees "the features and routines" of Auschwitz everywhere. "How do men get and hold the most coveted jobs in big firms? By starting as 'trusties' … from Unterkapo to Kapo to Oberkapo… to camp executive and even higher if you're ruthless enough. You may even be able to eat with the SS and use their washroom if you're truly dedicated to the cause." She is equally candid about herself as well. In I Am Alive! she describes how she didn't stab some Germans just after liberation: "If … I had met one of those SS men while the dagger was still in my hand, would I have used it? I'm pretty sure I would. And I'd have had no guilty conscience afterwards." Likewise, her candour covers more positive things: the bonds of friendship in Auschwitz were "strong … more direct and more honest." She writes that "somehow those friends are still with me in spirit. If I do anything worthwhile, it's with their support."

On the last page Hart writes, "It has been said that to understand all is to forgive all. Perhaps one reason why the Nazis can never be forgiven is that their obsessive evil can never be understood."

—Robert Eaglestone

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Return to Auschwitz: The Remarkable Story of a Girl Who Survived the Holocaust

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