José Rodrigues dos Santos

 

O Manuscrito de Birkenau

(The Birkenau Scrolls)

Reviews

 

 I recently read The Magician of Auschwitz and The Birkenau Scrolls, and, despite having read hundreds of books on this subject, these two stand out. The author, José Rodrigues dos Santos, brings new information unknown to most people about what really happened in the extermination and forced labour camps. He brings to life the harsh conditions of daily life there. These are two heavyweight novels that manage to bring the reader into that living hell on Earth. They are worth every written word.

Márcio Pitliuk, director Yad Vashem Brazil and curator of the Holocaust Memorial in São Paulo

 

 My first worry when I was given these novels to read was this one: what would they tell me about the Holocaust that I did not know? Nothing, surely. How wrong was I! These books bring a very different and unorthodox approach. Instead of focusing on the voices of Holocaust survivors, which is what everybody usually does, they focus on the voices of the murdered ones. How does the author do that?

The amazing thing is that he did not have to invent material to put this across. He used authentic manuscripts by the survivors who witnessed killings in the gas chambers and crematories as sources of information. Who were these witnesses? They were the Jews selected by the Nazis to aid them in the logistical process of the gassings. This is a totally new perspective on the Holocaust. The author provided a voice to those who had lost it. This is a harder effort, and a unique one.

Simultaneously, it deals with a very uncomfortable side to the Holocaust for a Jew like myself, which is the fact that there were Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination procedures. So we feel conflicted about these people: were they victims or criminals? This is a subject largely ignored in literature on the Holocaust. So these books have this new perspective of showing us what happened from the point of view of those murdered. This is an amazing and major contribution to understand the Holocaust.

There is also a pace to the writing that is absolutely stunning. I originally wondered: how can you deal with this subject? I found genius in the very gradual unraveling of the story. From the outset, all is well, flowers and poetry, but as we go, we keep descending until, at the very end, we find ourselves in absolute darkness. The way the story evolves is fascinating. I felt that I was being slowly dragged to the bottom of a well. This was a very efficient way of dealing with this subject. And this evolution into the abyss involves not only suffering and humiliation, but also love, energy and hope. It shows the best and the worst in human beings.

I was very impressed by the writing style too. I had never read books by José Rodrigues dos Santos before. I was completely seduced by the way he wrote these novels. When we read it, we enjoy each and every word. I almost felt that I was reading a movie script. The colours, the details of different languages and even accents, the visual impact conveyed by the text, all this left me in wonder. It was as if I was given a haute-cuisine dish filled with exquisite tastes, a spice here, a spice there.

Finally, there is another aspect of the books that I find very important and which lurks between the lines. We are going through a difficult period when people ignore the dignity of other people. These novels hit us in the face with the idea that if we are not careful with what we say, the possibility of the unthinkable is there. Words matter, words generate destructive acts. It is important for us to understand this, and it’s a very clear message from these novels. So, if you want to read a book that entertains but also disturbs, a book that informs but also educates, these are the ones. Not easy reads, but important ones. In a normal world, these two novels would be the most famous ones by José Rodrigues dos Santos."
Rabbi Shlomo Pereira, director of Education at the Chabad, USA, and teacher of history, philosophy and canonic law

 

 It seems fiction has found a new subject: The Holocaust. I, like many people, and even the author as we shall see, felt some reluctance in seeing this subject dealt in a novel. Fiction demands freedom of imagination, but in this case, it requires a respect for unimaginable facts.

In The Magician of Auschwitz we access the Nazi doctrinaire basis. Just like Hannah Arendt, José Rodrigues dos Santos thrives to provide an explanation for the absurd and tragic practice of evil carried out by common people, but without excusing them.

In The Scrolls of Birkenau we face daily life in a death camp: death lurking at every moment, hunger, cold, mud. These are pages of suffering without tears in which we read the absurd of the extermination of the Jews. I actually advise readers to start at the Final Note of  The Scrolls of Birkenau, where the author uses certified information to show that the Sonderkommando members are real people and not fictional ones. The reason they managed to withstand their experiences to the limit, was because they hoped to share what they had seen, and name those who died.

These two novels accomplish what Kafka demanded from literature: "We should only read books that bite us". Before reading these novels, for me José Rodrigues dos Santos was a journalist who wrote books. From now on he is a writer who is also a journalist."
Madalena Barata, vice-president Luso Portuguese Association for Israel