Popular Articles

The first book to pair the story of a Holocaust victim with that of a concentration camp liberator

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

All the Horrors of War traces its protagonists’ respective journeys from opposite ends of wartime Europe, trajectories destined to converge in Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. (Photo: Amazon)

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Boston University senior scholar Bernice Lerner (The Triumph of Wounded Souls: Seven Holocaust Survivors’ Lives), patient and tenacious, spent 15 years researching and writing her latest work, All the Horrors of War (UK version: To Meet in Hell). But this was no standard academic monograph for the authoress, who in this dual biography profiles her Holocaust survivor mother, Rachel Genuth, and her rescuer, British Second Army doctor Brigadier H. L. Gwyn Hughes.

Weaving discrete biographical strands into a cohesive narrative occurring over the course of five seasons (Spring 1944–Spring 1945) and beyond, Lerner offers an account akin to a double helix, for her parallel strands ultimately never meet, just as Genuth and Hughes never did.

The book traces its protagonists’ respective journeys from opposite ends of wartime Europe, trajectories destined to converge in the filthy, rat-infested depot camp Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945.

The youthful Genuth grew up in a poor home in Sighet (then in Hungary, now in Romania), and had been a neighbor and family friend of Elie Weisel. As an adolescent, she was torn from her native milieu at 14 in 1944. She was deported to Auschwitz but somehow managed to avoid the gas chambers. At 15, Genuth arrived at Bergen-Belsen in mid-March 1945, around the time of Anne Frank’s death therein. 

Three weeks before VE Day, the calculating architect of the Holocaust, SS chief Heinrich Himmler—hoping to curry favor and secure his postwar position in Germany—relinquished Bergen-Belsen to the Allies. Awaiting them was a myriad (literally) of putrefying corpses and 60,000 emaciated inmates. As Lerner details, “built for 4,000, Bergen-Belsen held 41,520, having swelled from 15,000 a few months earlier. It would grow to 53,000 in the next four weeks. … the Germans did nothing to provide for the thousands of ravaged internees. No medical services. No habitable housing. No sanitation. No disposal of the dead, whose numbers increased with devastating speed.”

The “doctor-combatant” Hughes, who had been a sickly child and perhaps was thereby sensitized to the plights of others, bore witness to the plethora of pathologies menacing the camp’s prisoners, including typhus, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis, scabies, bedsores, and adhesions, in addition to starvation, psychological trauma, and despair.

“The concentration camp exceeded in horror anything Hughes had ever seen. Tough soldiers and officers confronting the ‘never-imagined depth of human depravity’ vomited, cursed, and cried. Some froze, like statues, for twenty minutes.”

But Hughes was just the man for the job: “when situations arose that called for quick and decisive action, he displayed those habits and dispositions he developed as an adolescent and young man, as an athlete and leader.” 

Get thej.ca a Pro Israel Voice by Email. Never miss a top story that effects you, your family & your community

Nonetheless, Hughes was profoundly affected: “The weak animal-like cries of ‘many only just able to realize that there might still exist a ray of hope for them’ moved Hughes to the core. He understood why, in this place, normal standards had disappeared; self-preservation was the only instinct left. Daunted, assaulted, he sank into despair. He was an expert at evacuating casualties. He could organize personnel and communications, medical and surgical teams, and hospitals. He had overseen burials and controlled chaos during rescue missions. But in this hell, where to begin?”

Lerner graphically depicts how the brigadier “grasped the enormity of both the crime and the work ahead. Living skeletons shared bunks and the floor with the dead. They used the dead as pillows and mattresses and to warm their bodies. They had little to nothing in the way of straw or blankets. They wore filthy clothing or none at all. Every face bore signs of misery.”  

In the event, Hughes “outlined immediate tasks: provision of food and water, burial of the dead, evacuation of the camp, hospitalization of the sick, rehabilitation of the fit. … Hughes made urgent demands on the British Second Army. In the ensuing days and weeks, he would bring to Belsen medical units, military government detachments, and garrison troops. He would call for help from UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), Red Cross sections, experts in typhus control and feeding the starved, and other groups. He would press German nurses and doctors into service. The emergency assemblage would be woefully inadequate in numbers. Had he ten times the personnel, he might have been able to stem the death rate of roughly five hundred people each day, a tragic statistic that continued for weeks.”

Having contracted tuberculosis, the feeble Genuth was additionally beaten unconscious in a petty spat with her fellow tent-mates, who by then had been reduced to beastly tendencies; once again she somehow survived, and through the Red Cross was rehabilitated in a sanitarium in Sweden. Although her health suffered for years thereafter, she eventually revivified; a decade after the war, she married in Stockholm, and subsequently immigrated to America, had children, and found a career. Genuth has now also spoken to some 250 school groups about her Shoah experiences and adjures her listeners to refute Holocaust deniers. 

Survivors who witnessed Glyn Hughes’s caring and compassion named the 13,000-bed hospital at Bergen-Belsen for him. (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Notably, Hughes was the first to testify in Lüneburg, Germany at the September 1945 Belsen trial of SS Haubsturmführer Josef Kramer, commandant of Bergen-Belsen and a notorious sadist (known by inmates as the “Beast of Belsen”), along with 44 SS members and guards. The veteran physician averred: “I have been a doctor for thirty years and seen all the horrors of war, but I have never seen anything to touch it.” Perhaps owing to his wartime experiences, and unlike British officialdom, Hughes became not only philo-Semitic but Zionist in outlook.

“That the Second Army had saved a remnant of the Jewish people from annihilation was a source of pride for Hughes. He considered the recovery of survivors and the formation of a self-governing community in Bergen-Belsen a ‘glorious moment in Jewish history.’” Lerner asserts that “Hughes regarded each survivor of Bergen-Belsen as one he personally saved.” He even “had asked Rabbi Isaac Levy, the former chaplain for the British Army of the Rhine, to say a prayer for the Belsen martyrs at his funeral—a final expression of his bond with the Jewish people, an extension of the altruism inculcated in him…and sustained during his life as a medical doctor.”

All the Horrors of War is a compact, matter-of-fact account that skillfully interlaces disparate yet related threads into a seamless story, and the juxtaposition of its protagonists provides readers with a novel and holistic perspective on historical events. In honoring her indomitable mother, Lerner likewise pays homage to a righteous gentile and an ethical exemplar who has hitherto lacked the popular awareness that is his due; in so doing, the authoress helps ensure that Hughes’ sterling service and compassion remain timeless lessons to us all.

The book includes a map, 26 black-and-white photographs, endnotes, and an index. (April 2020) All the Horrors of War, by Bernice Lerner. Johns Hopkins University Press, $27 USD (280p) ISBN 978-142-143-770-5  

Brandon Marlon is an award-winning Canadian-Israeli author whose writing has appeared in 300+ publications in 32 countries. His most recent book is the Jewish historical reference Essentials of Jewish History: Jewish Leadership Across 4,000 Years. www.brandonmarlon.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Read More

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

Breaking News

Recent

Features

News

Current Events

Opinions

Politics

Religion

Culture

Memoriam and Obituaries

PodcastS

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Previous
Next