Auschwitz is, for millions around the world, synonymous with the horrors of the Holocaust. The best-known concentration camp network is the center of so many stories of terror, separation, death, and survival, and the setting of Jon Clinch’s The Thief of Auschwitz.
Jacob Rosenberg, a barber in the Polish tourist town of Zakopane, meets and marries artist Eidel. Together they raise two children, but when the Nazis start moving through Poland they give up their idyllic life and go on the run until they are ultimately put on a train to Auschwitz. To avoid the gas chambers, Jacob tells fourteen-year-old Max to claim he is eighteen. Thus begins the story: “The camp at Auschwitz took one year of my life, and of my own free will I gave it another four.” Through the next year the Rosenbergs work and dream of freedom, and are forced to make difficult choices in order to survive.
The Thief of Auschwitz is a moving novelization of life in concentration camps, portraying the struggle of families who are separated to endure the burdens of camp life without knowing the fate of their loved ones, as well as the scars that remain long after the struggle is done. It is also a compelling tale of the love between parents and children, and the lengths to which a parent will go to protect his or her child.
Two interconnected narratives tell the story of the Rosenberg family. A third-person narrator describes the entire family’s journey up to and through Auschwitz. In alternating chapters, Max – a painter in the present – spends the quiet days before a retrospective of his work at the National Gallery recalling the past, reflecting on the work of fellow artists, and trying to safeguard the secrets he still keeps.
Clinch’s prose is straightforward, quietly evocative and no less heart-wrenching for it. There are no major plot twists and few overall surprises, but that does not diminish the effect of solid storytelling. Rather, it allows the reader to fall into the emotional center of the story – to feel the horrible pain and enduring hope of the Rosenbergs and their fellow prisoners from beginning to end.
I strongly recommend The Thief of Auschwitz to everyone, regardless of individual preference. This is a novel that transcends genre and goes straight for the heartstrings.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, son, and two cats. When she isn’t reading, getting paid to play on social media, or running her own business she enjoys playing with her baby and cooking.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Kelley & Hall Book Publicity. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.