Mass deportation of European Jews to the killing metropolis of Auschwitz began in spring 1942. By January of 1945, more than a million Jews had been murdered there by gas, torture, starvation, medical experimentation and “natural” causes. The catastrophe (an inadequate descriptor, to be sure) lasted about five years; efforts to understand it have lasted more than half a century.
My father, Otto Feuer, had been a chess champion (he won the Belgian title in 1936), and his hero had always been the Russian chess champion Alexander Alekhine. One day, in the Buchenwald latrine, Otto came upon what he thought was a miracle of sorts: There on the ground was a page from a recent German chess magazine, undoubtedly discarded by an SS guard, with an article by, of all people, Alekhine. Otto’s mood soared — until he began reading.