For much of the past 70 years, Otto Dov Kulka has been leading something of a double life. As a professor of history in Jerusalem, he is known for writing dispassionately about Nazism and the genocide of the Jews.
But as a survivor of the concentration camps at Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, he also has a deeply personal relationship with the Holocaust.
For decades he has kept these two sides of himself scrupulously separate. Now, for the first time, he has turned his academic eye inward to explore as unflinchingly as possible, the ways in which his childhood encounter with Auschwitz has affected him.
Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death makes for deeply disturbing but ultimately very rewarding reading, and is unlike any Holocaust memoir I have ever come across.
Kulka’s experience of what he has come to call the “Metropolis of Death” was not like that of the vast majority of Jews who passed through its gates. When he arrived at Auschwitz he did not have to undergo the infamous “selection” at the station, which separated those who were fit for work from those destined immediately for the gas chambers. He did not have his head shaved, or his clothes and belongings confiscated, and he was not separated from his family. He and his mother were part of a unique transport of Jews from Theresienstadt, who were housed together in a specially designated “family camp” and allowed to continue some semblance of normal life.
He attended a makeshift school, where he and his friends put on plays and concerts, some of which were attended by camp dignitaries like Josef Mengele.
They could not understand why they had been singled out for such special treatment (it turned out they were being kept as a showpiece, just in case the Red Cross should visit). Their good fortune did not last long. In March 1944, six months after their arrival, the entire group was rounded up and taken to the gas chambers.
Kulka and his mother survived the first culling by a twist of fate: they both happened to be in the infirmary on the night of the liquidation. But they were under no illusion this was anything but a temporary reprieve. It is this “immutable Law of the Great Death” that was his constant companion. – The Daily Telegraph