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Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 14:54:30 -0700
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Subject: Nizkor-l: Bruno Piazza and Auschwitz


Bruno Piazza was a 55-year-old Jewish lawyer from 
Trieste when he was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. 
Due to an almost incredible combination of lucky 
circumstances, he managed to survive until after the 
liberation. 
    Before his death in 1946 he wrote a book called
"Why the others forget" ("Perché gli altri dimenticano"),
in which he tells his story from the day of his arrest
until January 27, 1945, when Auschwitz was occupied by
the Soviets.
    It is - unjustly - less famous than the books by 
the other Italian Auschwitz author, Primo Levi; and very
different. Levi after all was very young at the time,
and didn't speak German very well. Piazza on the other
hand was in his mid-fifties, and having grown up in 
the Habsburg empire (Trieste had only become Italian in
1919) he spoke fluent German and understood much better
what was going on around him. 
    Besides being a very well-written book, it provides
some useful information. For example on the complete 
uselessness of the prisoners' work. 

    "The next day an assistant came to take me to the
    brick carriers' team. I followed him slowly, brooding
    over the ungrateful work awaiting me. Ungrateful and 
    perfectly useless, since a locomotive and a few
    carriages were available which could easily have
    transported thousands and thousands of bricks from
    the freight yard to the factory in no time. Not 
    even a need to spare fuel could have led the Lager 
    administration to avail itself of the work of
    thousands of men instead of the power of the steam 
    engine. It is true that human material did not cost
    anything to the Lager, but it is also true that coal    
    was not worth much in such a region so full of mines. 
    We often saw huge piles of it at the freight yard. 
    That painful work was therfore only a punishment, a 
    means like any other to accelerate our process of 
    dissolution."

    (p. 112-113)


It seems to me that this provides a confirmation of one of 
Goldhagen's theses: Jewish labour in concentration camps 
was mostly useless punishment. (It is also interesting to 
note, by the way, that Jewish labour was not used in great 
proportion where the results *were* considered important, 
eg in V2 weapon production [*]).
    Piazza also provides a confirmation of another thesis
of Goldhagen: the marked difference in treatment between
Jewish and non-Jewish inmates. Due to a - perhaps 
deliberate - mistake of the Italian police, Piazza was 
registered as a "political prisoner", not as a Jew. The 
difference is noticeable even before they reach the camp. 
Piazza's carriage, which contained only non-Jews, was 
opened by the soldiers every time the train stopped. 
They were not harassed by the soldiers in any way, who 
even allowed them to get out and wash themselves, or get
water to drink. The other carriages instead were kept 
locked from the beginning of the journey until the end 
(p.25).

    Piazza also describes his meeting with Dr Mengele, 
whose name he mispells as "Mengerle". On one occasion 
he is selected by Mengele for killing. Together with 
dozens of others he is sent to the gas chamber, where 
he waits several hours because - as a member of the 
Sonderkommando explains - "they are waiting for the 
powder" (p.130). He is saved at the very last moment, 
when all the non-Jews are taken out and sent back to 
the camp. 

    I have no idea whether an English translation of 
the book exists. The Italian edition is published by
Feltrinelli.

[userid suppressed]


[*] see for example, Wincenty Hein's "Die Lebens- und
Arbeitsbedingungen der Häftlingen im Konzentrations-
lager Dora-Mittelbau und ihre Konsequenzen", p. 48 
and following. Two third of the victims at the camp
of Mittelbau-Dora (used for V2 production) were 
either Russian, Polish or French non-Jewish prisoners.
The Jews represented a minority, probably because of
the fear that they might engage in sabotage activities.

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