House of Dolls (Original English translation from Hebrew pub. date: 1955)
By Ka-Tzetnik 135633
Those wishing to learn about the Holocaust and other crimes committed by the Nazis certainly have a wealth of sources to choose from, including historical research and archival film footage. So, with much available, why would a person select this book? Simply, few media have managed to capture as well the truly harrowing nature of the ghetto, concentration work camp, and bizarre medical and sexual perversions of the Nazis. More, this slim volume resurrects the victims to help us understand and relate to them and their suffering in the most basic human terms. Here are people with ordinary lives, school children with dreams, families of individuals who loved each other; in short Ka-Tzetnik (a pen name of Yehiel Feiner) allows us to experience the pure hell of Nazi terror, of the total destruction of free will, of the complete degradation of a human being … done by other human beings who bought into the fallacy that they were superior. It stands as a lesson in how far down the rings of Dante’s, or anybody else’s, of hell demagoguery can take us.
The Germans have conquered Poland. They have build their concentration camps. They have crowded Jews into ghettos and have forced them into producing goods for their war effort. Periodically, from these ghettos, the Gestapo rounds up people for transport to the local concentration camps for the purposes of forced labor and murder.
Daniella and Harry Preleshnik, sister and brother, exist in different ghettos. He’s the much older brother; Daniella is only fourteen. She yearns to be with him, but that is not possible. He risks capture and execution to visit her from time to time. Once a promising school girl, she now works making shoes for the Germans and lives in quarters in which people are piled one on top of the other. Through her eyes, readers learn how the ghettos work and the toll that constant hunger and anxiety takes on people. Through her, also, readers learn of life before the Nazis. Ghetto life takes up about the first third of the novel and illustrates just how hellacious existence was for the captured.
Then both she and Harry find themselves in concentration camps, Harry being the first to be shipped off. He’s not there for long, not subject to brutal labor, before, on caprice, the camp commander appoints him camp physician. Mind you, Harry has no experience and his only job seems to be lining up medicines stolen from arriving victims in neat rows; clearly, no medical aid gets dispensed from the camp hospital. It’s pure ego and showmanship on the part of the camp commander. Let the indignity, the total callousness of that sink in; torture is found not just at the end of a bludgeon. Through Harry’s eyes, we see the toll the camp takes on its prisoners.
Readers also see some of this through Daniella’s experiences, for she’s shunted into the labor division upon her arrival. The brutally she witnesses, perpetrated on young girls like her, will take away the breath of any half-feeling person. Worse, far worse, is the casualness, the sense of entitlement with which their overseers inflict their brutality. Shortly, though, Daniella finds herself spared from a brief, physically painful life in the labor division. Instead, she lands in the Joy Division, home of the camp brothel and “medical experimentation laboratory.” There, she’s forced into sexual slavery, satisfying the desires of German soldiers brought in from the surrounding camps. It’s her job to ensure they receive their full allotment of enjoyment, for one word of dissatisfaction lands her on report, three of which lead directly to her death by public beating, a fate she, and all camp prisoners, witness on a regular basis.
To say that the novel ends sadly is not giving away very much; though Daniella does rebel, of a sort, and exercises the last bit of control she has over her fate. And though the author certainly has taken some liberties here, what he has accomplished is humanizing and personalizing the suffering endured by millions, suffering and butchery calculated to inflict as much pain as possible in order to act out a racial fantasy. Decidedly worth your time and the effort to locate a copy, either used or in some libraries. w/c