The Dead Years by Joseph Schupack #BookReview #Memoir #WWII @AmsterdamPB



Joseph Schupack has fulfilled a vow to those who did not survive: to write his Holocaust memoirs and offer a unique perspective on the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.

In The Dead Years, Joseph Schupack (1922 – 1989) describes his life in Radzyn-Podlaski, a typical Polish shtetl from where he was transported to the concentration camps of Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Dora / Nordhausen and Bergen-Belsen during the Second World War. We witness how he struggled to remain true to his own standards of decency and being human. Considering the premeditated and systematic humiliation and brutality, it is a miracle that he survived and came to terms with his memories.

The Dead Years is different from most Holocaust survivor stories. Not only is it a testimony of the 1930s in Poland and life in the Nazi concentration camps – it also serves as a witness statement. This Holocaust book contains a wealth of information, including the names of people and places, for researchers and those interested in WW2, or coming from Radzyn-Podlaski and surroundings. The book takes us through Joseph Schupack’s pre-war days, his work in the underground movement, and the murder of his parents, brothers, sister and friends.

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This memoir is not written in the format of a classic storyline but consists of short paragraphs about the various things Joseph Schupack remembered. The writing style is to the point and quite unflinching and since every paragraph is designed to focus on one specific memory, there’s a lot coming at you as a reader. The Dead Years is a book that’s shorter than my average reads with a total count of 209 pages, but I read it deliberately in a few sittings, simply because this memoir mustn’t be rushed and I felt I needed to take my time to let it all sink in.

It is not emotionally written though, there’s a distancing from what happened and most of the time the author doesn’t share his deepest grief or fears (many of his family die but he describes that too in only one or two paragraphs, then skips to something else) but don’t get me wrong, the events he had to live through are so harrowing, so atrocious and incomprehensible that I didn’t really need more emotion, you can feel his pain through the descriptions and his words.

I’ve read some books about WWII before and while I recognize the same torture and barbaric acts in the camps regardless of its location (it’s still incomprehensible how that could be so consistent wherever you were), I hadn’t read any accounts from survivers about the Majdanek extermination camp yet, or how you were already destined to be everyone’s scapegoat if you happened to be born a Jew in Poland pre-war. Long before the deportations began, life was already all about surviving. The reality was very grim. I read about all the Aktionen that were used, new rules coming in vigor each Friday, and how that deprived them of their freedoms, having to move house several times, giving up valuables, being forbidden to listen to the radio, or coming together at night, just to name a few. There’re a lot more abhorrent and wicked actions that were being undertaken at that time, and they didn’t all happen in the camps. The Dead Years certainly contributed to form a bigger picture of Poland’s landscape as he tells what is often unheard of. I also appreciated that Joseph Schupack told about the days and weeks that followed after the liberation. I was astonished that people in his home town were still holding on to this anti-semetic ideology.

Joseph Schupack was a strong man and his strong mind and a good dose of luck made him a survivor. Only the ending left me a bit sad though, it was a bit abrupt and the author seemed bitter for reasons that the reader can’t really comprehend because he didn’t elaborate but were about a life-long friendship which turned sour. I felt it was a bit of a shame those were the last words of his book (he listed 3 important dates/moments after that but that was more of an afterword).

The Dead Years was an unapologetic read, powerful and poignant. The cruelty of people has no limits and it’s hard to believe we’re the same species as the people who did all this. This book definitely left its mark.

I received a free paperback copy of this novel courtesy of Amsterdam Publishers. This is my honest opinion.


15 thoughts on “The Dead Years by Joseph Schupack #BookReview #Memoir #WWII @AmsterdamPB

  1. Wow, what an impactful review!

    I actually prefer when books like this are not too emotional in their language. It is better to let the actions speak for themselves.

    When you see what goes on in the world today, I don’t find it that hard to believe, the human species could do something like this (but then again, I am quite cynical). It is great though that books are still being written around this topic, which hopefully means it won’t be forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right, with everything I read before (lots of emotions) it was a significant change, but for the better.
      I don’t want it to be forgotten either but I’m also afraid it might give people ideas too. I can only wish sanity will prevail and history will not repeat itself like this ever again. Thank you Stargazer!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well Inge one more to add to my TBR! Since the beginning of the year I’ve been reading lots of historical fiction about WII. I am just listening to The Tattooist of Auschwitz now and I can relate with what you wrote about staying the most decent and needing luck to survive!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Poignant, heartfelt and, I’m sure, a devastating read especially, if as you say, it’s written dispassionately and with purpose. I think this kind of memoir can only be writing from a distance otherwise the author would never get past the first memory, let alone us, as readers. It definitely sounds like something we should all be reading and taking in. Thank you for your, as always, thoughtful review, Inge.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Links I’ve Enjoyed This Week – 10/11/19 #WeeklyRoundUpPost 🔗📆 🔗 #SecretLibraryBookBlog – Secret Library Book Blog

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