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In March of 1942 the Germans were in control of Slovakia. They issued an order that 1000 unmarried Jewish women be brought to the train station. The official word was the women,the author consistently refers to them as “our girls”, were being sent to work for three months in a shoe factory in Germany. The official documents families received said they would be paid, could send money home, and would be well fed and cared for. Most people believed this. Many of The girls saw it as an adventure and a way to earn money to help your family. Parents were apprehensive but most wanted to obey the government.
The Holocaust killed six million million. Powerful books like 999 The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Transport to Auschwitz help transform for the reader an unfathomable number into real individual people.
In the opening segments Macadam shows us the what home life of the girls was like. The girls, sixteen to twenty-one were very precious to their family, cherished, treated gently. They had the best food and clothing their families could afford. At the slightest illness the family doctor came to the House. Most were raised in families that closely followed Jewish traditions. Girls stayed home until they married, sometimes for love but often arranged. I said to myself, these girls grew up just like our three daughters, now 22, 25 and 28. Of course i knew what was going to happen to the transported girls.
When the girls arrive at the train depot they find not a comfortable passenger train but filthy cattle cars. The girls cannot easily get into the cars. As they struggled the guards called them “Jewish Whores” and whipped slower girls while dogs barked. The cars were way over crowded, there was one bucket for waste, one for water in a car with forty girls.The food was very inadequate and garbage compared to what they had a home. Two girls died on the train.
Horrible things begin to happen shortly after they arrive. They are made to take all their clothes off to be inspected while guards stood learing. Their heads were shaved as was their pubic hair. They were tattoed. The idea is to strip the girls of their identity. The guards were the scum of Germany. We see they stole as much as they could from goods that were supposed to go to the German war effort. It was so sad to learn many parents sent money to their daughters.
The story of survival of few and death of all but twenty so was perfectly told. The author has done extensive reseatch and tells us the fates of individual girls, those who died early and girls who would live into their nineties. Some of surviving girls from repeated kicks to the lower body, years of horrible diet either could not conceive or would miscarry. Contrary to many generations, almost none had more than two children. The survivors found their families wiped out, their old homes stolen. Very few stayed in Slovenia, some moved to Israel, some Canada, America or Australia. Some repudiated their faith,seeing God as having abandoned them. Some eventually got reperations from Germany. Macadam says they got on average for each hour worked as a slave labourer $0.39.
999 The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune Macadam is narrative non-fiction raised to an art form.
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