Helena, a Jew, was transported to Auschwitz, from her home in Czechoslovakia after voluntarily surrendering to the German occupation forces, believing she was being sent to work in a factory to assist the German war effort. On arrival at Auschwitz, she was immediately to be sent to the gas chamber and murdered, along with her entire transport. A chance encounter with Rottenfuhrer Wolff, would see her, instead, chosen to sing a birthday song to one of the guards in Auschwitz - Franz Dahler.
So taken by her singing and her beauty was Franz, he immediately ordered she be removed from the liquidation list and instead assigned to work in his section - the famous "Kanada" where the dead people's belongings (clothes, jewellery, money etc) were sorted and re-purposed for use by the German Reich.
The story switches back and forth between the Denazification Trial of Franz Dahler, in 1947, where he is accompanied by his "wife", the former inmate, Helena, from Auschwitz - to Helena's and Franz's actual time spent in Auschwitz and later Birkenhau. Overseeing the trial, from the sidelines is an American Psychiatrist, Dr Hoffman who is fascinated by the whole tale of the Dahlers' love affair and romance. How is it possible for an inmate of such a horrific place as a concentration camp to fall in love with the SS Guard appointed to oversee them? To Hoffman, it simply doesn't make any sense and he is sure there is something at play here, as yet undiscovered by modern psychiatry.
As with all of Midwood's novels, this story (based entirely on true events), despite it being set against such a hateful and depressing backdrop is all about love, survival and the indomitable human spirit. I felt Midwood captured perfectly what must have been the mindset of so many young, idealistic SS Nazis. Raised to believe that their superiors could NEVER be wrong, many of them must have looked at what they were doing to, principally the Jews, and wondered... even known, that it was wrong... and yet, it was their orders and orders were never wrong, even if they didn't understand them.
As always, Midwood's research is impeccable and her descriptive prose takes us right inside the horror and the evil that was Auschwitz-Birkenhau. While it is true that the "Kanada" was, as they put it, "a right kosher detail" and the girls there were well treated in comparison to the regular inmates, Midwood doesn't pull any punches in her descriptions of the conditions faced by Helena and even the regular inmates. Her descriptions of the systematic murder of an entire race are compelling, absolutely realistic and incredibly hard to read. But, like all her work there is an overwhelming sense of the dignity of humanity and the power of love, even among such unspeakable tragedy.
In my mind, Midwood is a superstar of this genre and Auschwitz Syndrome is just indicative of her immense talent at parading in front of our unsuspecting noses - "that which we must NEVER forget". I can't recommend this read highly enough. It is thought-provoking and mind-blowing and not something I'll forget in a short time.