Title: Prisoner of 68 months Buchenwald & Auschwitz
Author: Stanislaw Sattler
Publisher: Kelly Books
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 1980
Location of Book: Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Poland: Cracow, Auschwitz, Buna, Germany: Buchenwald
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
Sattler presents an autobiography covering his experiences during the years 1939-1945. Some 15 pages deal with his arrest by the Gestapo in his hometown, Cracow; 43 pages with life in the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany; 50 pages with life in Auschwitz and Buna in Poland, up until the point of evacuation; 20 pages dealing with liberation and a brief discussion of his return to Poland. Sattler’s autobiography was written late in life and was published by Kelly Books in 1980. The book flows freely between description of events and people, and retrospective thoughts on the war, the political situation, and the roles played by various nations and groups.
Sattler does not go into great detail about his background, but the reader is told that he was born in Crakow, Poland, a descendant of Jewish migrants from Germany. We are also told that he was raised in a religiously observant home, and that before the war he was married and had two children, a son and a daughter. His wife and children all perished during the Holocaust. Sattler was arrested very early into the German occupation of Poland, so his memoir concentrates predominantly on life in the camps, with little information on his life before the Germans arrested him. There is relatively little discussion in the book about political ideology, although Sattler does comment that at the time he was first imprisoned, he sympathized with socialism but was not a Marxist.
In 1939, the Gestapo arrested Sattler at his hardware store and imprisoned him. After a short transit period in St. Michael Prison and then Skrochovice, in Czechoslovakia, Sattler was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he spent three years. Sattler’s time in Buchenwald was characterized by fear of the unknown and uncertainty of the Germans’ intentions. Sattler witnessed awful events and lived under harsh conditions, but he displayed enormous willpower to survive. In this cruel environment, he befriended a fellow prisoner who happened to be a committed socialist. Their discussions of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky provided an intellectual diversion from the harshness of the camp.
After three years in Buchenwald, Sattler was forced, one day, to board a train which took him to Auschwitz. After watching the ‘selection’ ahead of him and seeing that many were being sent to their deaths, he pretended to be an electrician so that, as a skilled person, he could be sent to a slave labour camp. His plan succeeded, and soon enough he was working in a small camp next to Auschwitz called ‘Buna’. Just a few months later, the approach of the Russian army prompted the Nazis to evacuate Sattler and others to a location further from the front, and Sattler found himself returning to Buchenwald.
Finally, in April 1945, Sattler was liberated in Buchenwald by the US Army. After liberation, Sattler returned to Cracow. There, he found out that his family had been killed and that his home and business had been taken over by other people. He was treated with hostility by some Poles, and was manipulated by others when he attempted to reclaim property. Eventually, an overwhelmed Sattler decided to give up and to leave Poland, eventually finding his way to Australia.
Sattler’s book is an unconventional one. He is not a professional writer, English is not his first language, and his memoir was written many years after the war. These factors give the book a sense of genuineness. At times, one feels when reading the book as if one is sitting with the eighty-year-old Sattler in his living room, listening to him passionately retelling of his experiences, interspersing his account with retrospective analysis about geo-political influences and about the actions and intentions of people he encountered, both good and bad. His story is tragic, and his account is a heartfelt one, brimming with the sorrow, grief and anger that remained with him for the rest of his life.