The extraordinarily moving memoir by Australian Slovakian Holocaust survivor Magda Hellinger, who saved an untold number of lives at Auschwitz through everyday acts of courage, kindness, and ingenuity.
In March 1942, twenty-five-year-old kindergarten teacher Magda Hellinger and nearly a thousand other young Slovakian women were deported to Poland on the second transportation of Jewish people sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The women were told they’d be working at a shoe factory.
At Auschwitz, the SS soon discovered that by putting Jewish prisoners in charge of the day-to-day running of the accommodation blocks, camp administration and workforces, they could both reduce the number of guards required and deflect the distrust of the prisoner population away from themselves. Magda was one such prisoner selected for leadership and over three years served in many prisoner leader roles, from room leader, to block leader – at one time in charge of the notorious Experimental Block 10 where reproductive experiments were performed on hundreds of women – and eventually camp leader, responsible for 30,000 women.
She found herself constantly walking a dangerously fine line: using every possible opportunity to save lives while avoiding suspicion by the SS, and risking torture or execution. Through her bold intelligence, sheer audacity, inner strength, and shrewd survival instincts, she was able to rise above the horror and cruelty of the camps and build pivotal relationships with the women under her watch, and even some of Auschwitz’s most notorious Nazi senior officers including the Commandant, Josef Kramer.
Later in life, Magda wrote her personal account of her time at Auschwitz and self-published it in a limited-edition paperback for friends and family. After her death, her daughter Maya Lee delved further into her mother’s story, undertaking extensive research, including testimonies from fellow Auschwitz survivors and video footage of interviews Magda had done for various Holocaust memorials and centres worldwide. Her mother had always been a positive, forward-thinking person but somewhat of an enigma. Now suddenly, Maya had discovered her mother’s history – and was compelled to write about it.
World War II historical fiction, and the Holocaust itself, has become an increasingly popular sub-genre in recent years, yet the Nazis Knew My Name stands out from the rest. As a work of non-fiction, this is an incredibly important book. With polished writing, exceptional research, and an extraordinary story, this is an unforgettable read that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
The Nazi’s Knew My Name is an awe-inspiring tale that offers us incredible insight into human nature, the power of resilience, and the goodness that can shine through even in the most horrific of conditions. A reminder many of us need right now. I can’t recommend this highly enough.