Writer and researcher Heather Dune Macadam has given over a decade of attention to the narratives at the core of her book’s work, and her devotion to her subjects presents readers with a remarkably original and balanced narrative. In 999, she follows the first group of young Jewish women to be deported to Auschwitz, some of whom were just teenagers at the time. With her sharp focus on this specific group of young women, Macadam moves beyond the numbing catalogue of horrors endemic to so much Holocaust writing. Instead, it gives her book the structure, compassion, and moral compass that helps to direct readers through the terrors she that describes.
As with any book that weaves together multiple stories, keeping track of the various strands, especially as many of the young women shared common names, requires readers to pay attention. For Macadam, that is clearly part of the point – to understand that each of these Martas and Ediths were, in fact, individuals with families, histories, and dreams for their futures. Readers will quickly realize that remembering these names honors their memories.
Macadam’s work as a researcher shines in her descriptions of the group’s arrival in Auschwitz, how the concentration camp developed over time, and the women’s experiences at liberation. As she describes the barrenness of the landscape and the women’s initial experiences of pain and humiliation at the hands of the SS, there is a tremendous sense of foreboding. Readers trace the development of the concentration camp as it moves from being in the trial stage of base cruelty, to the well-oiled machine of death that it would become. Macadam highlights that Auschwitz was a place that was built, that depended on the labor of its earliest inmates, and had a culture that grew out of a desperation to survive. In doing so, her readers have little choice but to acknowledge Auschwitz as an atrocity of intentional, human design, which if they have a conscience, can only be heart-breaking.
Should any reader’s heart remain unmoved, Macadam’s writing about the women’s experiences at the time of their liberation is a primal scream for humanity. She openly questions what it meant for these young women to have been imprisoned during their formative years. One of the themes that she returns to often is that having been the first to be deported, the families, homes, and towns they left were mostly intact – and had been almost completely annihilated in their absence. However, even as Macadam demands that readers connect viscerally with the women of 999, she treats their stories with utmost respect. She does not describe cruelty for shock value, glamorize their pain, or encourage vicarious victimhood. Macadam’s work is rather a straightforward narrative of pain and chaos inflicted by one group of people on another, and the imperfect ways in which everyone fights to survive.
This book is likely to be most meaningful to those with some background in Holocaust history. Such context is necessary to appreciate the micro-attention to the particular group of women in Macadam’s work. With an engaging and concise writing style, 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz provides a deeply moving and densely researched tiny slice of a much larger story.
BooksAndBlintzes.com received a copy of this book from the publisher for the express purpose of writing a review. The contents of this review are the personal reactions and opinions of its author.