Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Death's Head Chess Club by John Donoghue

ISBN: 9780374135706

It's impossible to put yourself in the shoes of a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz during the Second World War. Hopefully, one will never have to endure the hardships--struggle, starvation, watching your loved ones selected for extermination--that the survivors of the camp did and the terrible memories that they must keep with them until the end of their days. Because of their disastrous days, what they were put through, you cannot judge them for their feelings toward the German people, especially, say, 12 years after the end of the war (when half of this novel takes place.)

Emil Clement was a French Jew taken to Auschwitz. He was separated from his wife, children and mother and thrown into  a concentration camp. The one thing he was able to do was survive. 

Then, an opportunity was presented. Word had gone around the ranks that Emil--also known as a the Watchmaker because of his profession in a past life--was an excellent chess player. In order to boost morale and price the German superiority over the Jews, an officer was to play and defeat Emil. Of course, Clement won. It was then that the novel's other protagonist, SS officer Paul Meissner (a higher-up at Auschwitz) gave Emil the chance to play for his peers' lives: one game won, one Jew saved. 

The pressure was immense, but the Watchmaker was forced to comply (knowing he could save lives) and was successful. 

In 1962, Clement was taking part in an international chess tournament in Holland and a priest introduced himself: it was Meissner begging for forgiveness. 

I'm not sure how I'd handle myself in such a situation, but the author did an interesting job of wrapping it up in a neat little package. 

I liked The Death's Head Chess Club. It gave a perspective in a concentration camp that I've never seen or even thought about. 

I'd give it a read if I were you. 

As a side note, I apologize for the frequency at which I am posting. It's been a pretty busy summer but I'm doing the best I can. 

No comments:

Post a Comment