Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account is the memoir of Auschwitz camp inmate Dr Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish pathologist and unwitting volunteer as assistant to the infamous Dr Mengele in the camp's Sonderkommando. These "living dead," as they were labeled within the camp, were charged to perform the horrific, day-to-day labors of the camp's crematoria in exchange for improved (albeit temporary) living conditions. Members of the Sonderkommando were summarily executed themselves after 4 months' service (if they did not commit suicide beforehand)-at which time, mental and physical exhaustion precluded any further practical functioning. Nyiszli's chore was to perform and record numerous autopsies on murdered twins and deformed inmates to advance the demented, ethnic pseudoscience of Mengele.
In the deadened tone of one numbed by appalling scenes and impossible duties, Nyiszli conveys within his chronology his chief concern during internment (other than the fate of his wife and daughter): The purpose and function of the Auschwitz crematoria would never be recorded in history. All those who witnessed the succession of mass murder after mass murder-whether by gas, bullet, fire, or needle-were either members of the SS or those already condemned to death. Nyiszli recounts his own attempts to salvage life as a physician among the damned-actions that come off as pathetically futile or even arguably cruel. His association with his fellow Sonderkommando placed him in a distinctive position to know their plans for undermining the work of the local SS and confounding the operations of the crematoria. Although many times himself paralyzed with passive duty, Nyiszli's personal revolt included using his unique relationship to the ignorant Mengele to avert immediate camp extinctions. Ironically Nyiszli's connection with the criminal doctor of death secured Nyiszli's survival for the necessary telling of this unimaginable, compromised existence in one of the worst hells on earth.