• “The Death Camp Magicians” is November’s Book of the Month



    Death Camp Magicians

    Review by Marcia Posner

    The Death Camp Magicians: A True Story of Holocaust Survivors Werner Reich and Herbert Nivelli, by William V. Rauscher and Werner Reich,┬áis HMTC’s November Book of the Month. When a psychic priest names William V. Rauscher, and Survivor Werner Reich, both of whom are interested in magic, write a book together, the reader can expect to read something unique. This one does not disappoint. The two met because Reich was tracing “Nivelli” a professional magician who was his bunkmate in Birkenau, a concentration camp. Nivelli had taught Reich some card tricks there. Their common interest in magic had so fascinated a concentration camp guard, that Reich is sure it saved Nivelli’s life and indirectly, his own.

    Assuming that there are many younger people today who no longer know much about the Holocaust and Hitler, Rauscher introduces it in the book with many archival photographs, a history of the Holocaust and it’s villains followed by philosophizing on the theme of evil. He prefaces Reich’s testimony with, “Antisemitism, prejudice, intolerance and racism are caused by a lack of inner knowledge, spiritual development, self-awareness and a distorted view of our place on earth in the scheme of things.” He also has some provocative thoughts on how one needs an inner sense of divine dimension to cope with drugs and other evils of modern society and that he finds in Reich’s testimony of his Holocaust experiences a vision of how to rescue today’s youth from repeating that horror. Then Rauscher provides a list of Jewish magicians from the period of the Holocaust. Fascinating!

    But the bulk of the book belongs to Reich. His “book in a book” is titled: From Darkness Into Light: The Autobiography of Werner Reich.

    Reich’s description of his harrowing journey through the Shoah, the “Catastrophe” as the Holocaust is sometimes called, is dynamite. Reich was only 16 years old when he was taken prisoner at Auschwitz II. His gripping account of how he spent his teenage years in three concentration camps, where he encountered cruelty, but also where sometimes kindness and mutual support by prisoners trying to convert hardship into humor, aided the miracle of surviving. His bunkmate, Nivelli, entertained the SS guards with magic tricks and taught some to Reich, who credits Nivelli for changing his life and possibly for being selected as one not to be killed. He also wanted to thank Nivelli for introducing him to magic. Rauscher helps Reich vis a vis Nivelli and invites Reich to write his Holocaust experiences for this book.

    In his book (within the book) Reich guides the reader into the deepest recesses of what a teenager experienced in those terrible years when hell visited upon the earth and innocent souls were bound in its grasp. He depicts the entire history of Nazi influence and take over of Germany, his home country, and what happens to him in three increasingly tortuous concentration camps, as well as later on a train when the Germans are about to surrender. After liberation, as he wanders from country to country seeking a home and friends, if not family, one wonders how he survived. Multilingual, he also spends time on what happened to him in various countries after the war, at times as painful as his days of incarceration; truly a dismal time until determination to live again and find new friends and love with Eva start to make him whole again. Reich is not only a survivor, he is also a fine author, historian, and lecturer/speaker. This is a perfect book to offer to those who know little about Holocaust history and/or a memoir of someone’s experiences in that “kingdom of the night.” It is an equally perfect book for those who value good writing and admire the courage and strength of those young people who despite all, survived the camps. Each Survivor’s story is different, and Reich’s is one of the strangest. Despite his suffering, he retained his wry sense of humor and determination to survive. Recommended for young adult to adult.

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