It is always startling to discover our parents’ humanity, the real person they unintentionally conceal, their aspirations and disappointments, vanities and insecurities. When the parent is a Nazi concentration camp survivor, that discovery can be especially shocking.
By April 1945, eighteen year old Dave Hersch had already survived nearly a year in the hell of KZ Mauthausen, self-rated by the Nazis as the most monstrous concentration camp in the entire Reich. Now, though emaciated and barely alive, he was ordered onto a 34 mile death march. He never reached his destination. Instead, he escaped. Recaptured a short while later, he was inexplicably not killed, but instead was returned to Mauthausen. Put on another death march a week later, Dave did the impossible: he escaped again.
Dave often told his story of survival and escape, and his son Jack thought he knew it well. But years after his father’s death, he found a photo of his father on, of all places, KZ Mauthausen’s website – a photo he had never seen before.
Propelled by the mystery of that photo, and using only his father’s words for guidance, Jack takes us along as he travels to Europe to learn the secrets behind the picture, secrets his father never told of his time in the camps. Beginning in the verdant hills of Dej, his father’s Hungarian hometown, we travel with Jack to the foreboding rock mines of the Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps, to the dust-choked roads and intersections of the death marches, and finally to the makeshift hiding places of his father’s rescuers. We accompany Jack’s every step as he describes the unimaginable: what his father must have seen and felt while struggling to survive in the most abominable places on earth.
In a warm and emotionally engaging story, Jack digs deeply into both his father’s life and his own, revisiting – and reflecting on – his father’s time at the hands of the Nazis during the last year of the Second World War, when more than mere survival was at stake – the fate of humanity itself hung in the balance.
KZ Mauthausen is now an international site of remembrance and education, and is known as Mauthausen Memorial. Click here to visit its website.