The Brothers of Auschwitz

Written by Malka Adler Noel Canin (trans.)
Review by Jill E. Marshall

The Brothers of Auschwitz recounts the story of two brothers from Hungary, Dov and Yitzhak, who survive the concentration camps and death marches of the Holocaust. As teenagers after the war, they moved to a village in Galilee, and the author/narrator interviews them in their old age. The book is based on the true stories of these brothers, as well as the author’s reckoning with their history as a Jew and an Israeli.

The language is sparse, appropriate for harrowing, traumatic experiences. As with any Holocaust story, the details are horrific and heartbreaking and repetitive of other books of this type. That is, of course, not a critique of the novel but of humanity. The differences in the brothers’ personalities and the effects of their trauma gives this book emotional heft. The reader comes away feeling as if they’ve spent hours getting to know Dov, the optimistic yet fragile brother, and Yitzhak, the cynical and determined younger brother. There are moments of hope that stem from how strong these men had to be, including their reunion in Buchenwald and Yitzhak’s work to keep Dov alive during the death marches and in the hospital after the war ended.

The narrator’s interludes set this book apart. She reflects on what the brothers tell her, often during train travel to and from their home. These sections occur in 2001, at the time of the Second Intifada and increasing violence in Israel/Palestine. After the brothers tell of their initial train travel to the camps with German soldiers pointing guns at them, the narrator finds herself on a crowded train platform observing an Israeli soldier who stands casually with a weapon inadvertently pointed at her. “A state like a weapon depot,” she thinks. Because of her relationship with the brothers and her mission to hear and tell their experiences, she sees the world around her differently—which is uncomfortable.