Strains of Woodstock by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young play through the
warm Summer night as I sit at my desk, and read/listen to The Art of Survival
by Charles Pierce and J. Marlando, narrated by Andrew L. Barnes. A well written
autobiographical narrative of survival, the life and times of Charles Pierce in
World War II, the Holocaust and a new life in America. Amazingly, Mr. Pierce,
lives through the Holocaust, surviving 6 years of Nazi tyranny in the labour and
death camps of Poland and Germany, although 300 members of his family were
murdered. Often, other prisoners were taken away to be executed, yet through
that odd turn of wisdom, luck and grace he survives horrific conditions to
eventually have a good life in the United States. Throughout the book he calls
himself “an older man who has become somewhat of a philosopher” and the warmth
of his words pulls you into this truelife story. Throughout the book he presents
the psychological techniques he learned that created his survival story (these
also include advice on marriage learned after 50 years of happy marriage to his
wife, Libby). Early in the presentation he appeals to people to learn from
history and embrace peace, “After all I am not alone when it comes to the
human suffering from the will of the enslavers of the world, from people so
caught up in their ideologies that they lose their consciousness and close down
their potential to feel tolerance and understanding for others, such people
reject their empathy and take on the nature of evil.” It is a fantastical read
and listen. The audiobook is the pure magic of the spoken word, a celebration of
the narrative style of the book, with the deep resonant voice of Andrew L.
Barnes, that easily takes you into this tragic story of man's inhumanity to man
and the hope in love discovered.
The story begins in Kielce, Poland, a coming of age story, as Charles and his 4 brothers are young adults with dreams of going to school and raising families. However, Hitler’s war machine, with indoctrination techniques that aggrandize the German youth and discriminate against the Jews, gypsies and others suddenly spills over and demonizes Poland. Poland was ill prepared for war, with horses fighting tanks and grenades, overnight their lives were forever changed. He tells of the first days of slave labour and physical abuse, the constant hunger because they were underfed and the constant psychological torture, of the possibility of being taken out and shot at any time and watching this happen to others often. He remembers the good with the bad; juxtaposed with the story of the extermination camp of Belzic is the generosity of the local Jews in Hrubiesizow, who showered them with apples, pears, bread and challah (a kind of bread) as they passed through. Mr. Pierce tells of doing roadwork in Mircze, Poland, the hardship of sleeping and living in a barn through the cold winter and how Mrs. Kowalska who lived nearby, gave them food. He and his brother, Abe were returned to Kielce, where they were stricken with typhoid fever and after they recovered at the hospital, their family and the remaining Jews in the town were sent to the ghetto. Mr. Pierce and his brother were assigned hard labour at the stone quarry. A Nazi, Hans Kessler showed Mr. Pierce and his family kindness by giving them food. His older brother Moniek and his bride Rachel were shot with 9,000 other Jews in a field in Mariampole, Lithuania; his mother, father, brother Szymon and wife Luba were taken from the ghetto and gassed at the death camp, Treblinka. Mr. Pierce was sent to Bliziny Camp, making canvas sacs where he was caught stealing leather scraps (which he gave to the townspeople at the gates looking for handouts), only to have a miraculous escape from sanction, (the details are fascinating, well worth the read/listen). He was eventually sent to the death camp, Auschwitz and remembers talking to a group of school children under 10 years old, knowing they were going to be gassed and remembers thinking “if there is a God, why would he permit such terrible things to happen?” Always the stench of dead burning bodies and a barracks of women across the yard, who were often raped by the Nazi guards. A group of prisoners who were musicians were given fine clothing and asked to play for The Red Cross who went away without apparently having discovered the true conditions of the death camp. Then he was taken to Landsberg Am Lech were 99% of the prisoners were Hungarian Jews and then in 1944 to Dachau. After another miraculous escape he is found by American soldiers and sent to a hospital, he is skin and bones at 60 pounds. The day of liberation is May 5th, 1945. Two of his brothers survive, he finds them and then immigrates to live with cousins in New York City. Part II of the story tells of his married life and life in America. Interspersed throughout the narrative is the wisdom of survival in key psychological truisms; for example “it is essential to never confuse yourself with your situation” when life becomes unbearable. If you identify yourself with your worsened situation, you defeat yourself. This wise wisdom also extends to marriage and he attests to being happily married for 50 years, despite some difficult times.
Love can light the darkest night, a beautiful truthtelling that illuminates the human condition, The Art of Survival by Charles Pierce and J. Marlando, narrated by Andrew L. Barnes.
Genre: Autobiography, AudioBook, Body Mind Spirit, Military Memoir, Psychology
Available @ Legacy Audio Books.
Available @ Amazon Canada. Amazon.ca.
Available @ Amazon United States. Amazon.com.
Available @ Amazon United Kingdom. Amazon.co.uk.