“Auschwitz Lullaby” by Mario Escobar

The trouble with fictionalized memoirs and biographies of people who actually existed is, can be that fiction can risk trivializing reality, risk making something real seem so different from what it was that the meaning is changed. In the case of Mario Escobar’s Auschwitz Lullaby, it risks making the Nazi ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele seem almost sympathetic at times. Escobar took the risk and defeated it.

He balances every sign of hope, from Mengele, and counters it with the bleak desperation that pervaded every moment of every day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The true hope is provided in the form of the semi-fictionalized Helene Hanneman. A woman named Helene, German and ‘Aryan’, did find herself interned at Auschwitz because she married a Romani Gypsy man and their children were going to be deported so she went with them. As she was a German woman, Josef Mengele chose her, in reality and in this story, to run a nursery school he set up for Gypsy children and twins. If you know history, you know of Mengele’s twin studies and experiments. If you know of that, you know that there is nothing good in what Josef Mengele did.

Escobar makes it clear that Helene knew that. She knows that for everything he gives, there is something that he takes. It’s a balance that’s worth doing because it means a moment of hope.

That she used him as much as he used her, at least in terms of this book, is truly impressive and a light of hope in the darkness.

It’s hard to say more, given what is widely known and what might spoil the message of this book. Suffice it to say, I didn’t know as much about the Gypsy existence at Auschwitz as I thought I did, and I am happy to learn more now, and I cannot recommend this book enough.

(I received a copy of Auschwitz Lullaby from NetGalley and Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.)

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