Cold Crematorium: Reporting from the Land of Auschwitz (Hardcover)
A lost classic of Holocaust literature translated for the first time—from journalist, poet and survivor József Debreczeni
"As immediate a confrontation of the horrors of the camps as I’ve ever encountered. It’s also a subtle if startling meditation on what it is to attempt to confront those horrors with words…Debreczeni has preserved a panoptic depiction of hell, at once personal, communal and atmospheric." —New York Times
"A treasure...Debreczeni’s memoir is a crucial contribution to Holocaust literature, a book that enlarges our understanding of 'life' in Auschwitz." —Wall Street Journal
"A literary diamond...A holocaust memoir worthy of Primo Levi." —The Times of London
"It should be required reading." —Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated
"A timely reminder of man's inhumanity to man." —Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans
József Debreczeni, a prolific Hungarian-language journalist and poet, arrived in Auschwitz in 1944; had he been selected to go “left,” his life expectancy would have been approximately forty-five minutes. One of the “lucky” ones, he was sent to the “right,” which led to twelve horrifying months of incarceration and slave labor in a series of camps, ending in the “Cold Crematorium”—the so-called hospital of the forced labor camp Dörnhau, where prisoners too weak to work awaited execution. But as Soviet and Allied troops closed in on the camps, local Nazi commanders—anxious about the possible consequences of outright murder—decided to leave the remaining prisoners to die in droves rather than sending them directly to the gas chambers.
Debreczeni recorded his experiences in Cold Crematorium, one of the harshest, most merciless indictments of Nazism ever written. This haunting memoir, rendered in the precise and unsentimental style of an accomplished journalist, is an eyewitness account of incomparable literary quality. The subject matter is intrinsically tragic, yet the author’s evocative prose, sometimes using irony, sarcasm, and even acerbic humor, compels the reader to imagine human beings in circumstances impossible to comprehend intellectually.
First published in Hungarian in 1950, it was never translated into a world language due to McCarthyism, Cold War hostilities and antisemitism. More than 70 years later, this masterpiece that was nearly lost to time will be available in 15 languages, finally taking its rightful place among the greatest works of Holocaust literature.
Paul Olchváry has translated more than twenty books, including György Dragomán's The White King, No Live Files Remain, Budapest Noir, and Károly Pap's Azarel. He has received translation awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN America, and Hungary’s Milán Füst Foundation. His shorter translations have appeared in The Paris Review, The Hungarian Quarterly, and turnrow.
"[Debreczeni's] powers of observation are extraordinary. Everything he encounters in what he calls the Land of Auschwitz—the work sites, the barracks, the bodies, the corpses, the hunger, the roll call, the labor, the insanity, the fear, the despair, the strangeness, the hope, the cruelty—is captured in terrifyingly sharp detail...Debreczeni has preserved a panoptic depiction of hell, at once personal, communal and atmospheric."
—New York Times
"A treasure...Debreczeni’s memoir is a crucial contribution to Holocaust literature, a book that enlarges our understanding of 'life' in Auschwitz."
—Wall Street Journal
"A literary diamond...A holocaust memoir worthy of Primo Levi."
—The Times of London
"Superb...an unforgettable testimonial to the terror of the Holocaust and the will to endure."
"József Debreczeni was a journalist and a poet and he brings the skills of both to this remarkable work. Cold Crematorium will awe you with the acuity of its observations and the precision and beauty of its language. It should be read by everyone wishing to understand the cruelty and barbarism of the Shoah, but also the indomitable spirit of its survivors."
—Ehud Barak, Former Prime Minister of Israel
"Cold Crematorium is an indispensable work of literature, and a historical document of unsurpassed importance. It should be required reading."
—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated
"An immensely powerful and deeply humane eyewitness account of the horror of the camps. Through vivid descriptions of what he saw and experienced there, Debreczeni confronts the reader with the hell that the Holocaust was; not as something general belonging to history, but as a particular, concrete and devastating reality."
—Karl Ove Knausgård, author of My Struggle
“Brilliantly written, meticulously translated, Cold Crematorium offers us access into the dark world of the Holocaust that is distinct in its power and poignancy. As one who has explored that world for some half a century, I came away tutored and moved. Debreczeni has much to say, more to teach!”
—Michael Berenbaum, former United States Holocaust Museum Project Director
“Toward the end of the book, Debreczeni described the beginning of ‘Holocaust amnesia,’ foreshadowing the many ways in which this unique crime could be trivialized, denied, and, even, appropriated. Cold Crematorium could not be more relevant to the current discourse about intolerance, racism, and antisemitism.”
—Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League National Director, 1987-2015
"Whatever I say about this amazing book feels inadequate. Cold Crematorium is a brilliant book, but the word brilliant does not encompass it. It evades words. I have seldom read a book that creates empathy while dealing with the most dehumanized and dehumanizing experience. I wish everyone would read it, especially in this time of sheer inhumanity and baffling complicity."
—Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
"A timely reminder of man's inhumanity to man—especially for the young generation."
—Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans
“Cold Crematorium is a shaft with arrows pointing in two directions. One points back, placing Debreczeni on an important shelf alongside our embrace of Keretesz, Borowski, Wiesel, Levi. But the other points directly at our own tenuous moment of a growing new fascism, a new fear. This book is a necessary document to remind us how easily past can become prologue.”
—Daniel Torday, author of The Last Flight of Poxl West
“Cold Crematorium is a fearless and absorbing memoir that combines the tragic vision of the poet with the dispassionate eye of the ethnographer. Debreczeni’s unforgettable account describes a cruel and barbarous system of exploitation designed to achieve its murderous goals.”
—James Van Horn Melton, Professor Emeritus of European History, Emory University
“With searing honesty and razor-sharp prose, József Debreczeni shows how the Nazis robbed millions of people of their humanity before robbing them of life. Anyone who seeks to understand the effect of the concentration camp inferno on the human soul must read this book.”
—Derek Penslar, Harvard University
“A valuable, measured, authoritative work. The author doesn't gush; he can see and make seen, he dramatizes adroitly, he knows his way around literary devices to enhance the overall effect, and he weaves a series of fine, psychological observations into his story."
—Gábor Tüskés, Director of the Institute for Literary Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
“Devastating in the simplicity of its language, Debreczeni’s book is of immense eyewitness historical value and one of the greatest pieces of lost Holocaust literature from behind the newly descending Iron Curtain.”
—Steven L. Ossad, award-winning author of Omar Nelson Bradley: America's GI General
“With the exception of the work of Primo Levi, I do not know of a nonfiction book on the Holocaust as powerful as this.”
—Géza Röhrig, writer, lead actor in the Oscar-winning film Son of Saul
"An important book! Debreczeni writes precisely, rich in detail, vividly, and suggestively...At times I had to interrupt my reading, as I was so shaken."
—Ilma Rakusa, author and translator, Swiss Book Award winner
"A holocaust memoir worthy of Primo Levi."
—Adam LeBor, The Times of London
"Debreczeni writes with a cinematic clarity, a determination to make detail triumph over mass dehumanization."
—Julian Evans, The Telegraph
“Debreczeni’s book is not only an epic of a human Golgotha, nor only an illustration of all forms of depravity and debasement. It is certainly that and more, but also a painful cry and dark warning to all humankind.”
—Ivan Ivanji, Daily Paper (Novi Sad)
“Always present in this book—even behind the most mundane descriptions—are living beings, which, once visualized, even if illuminated for only a second, cannot be forgotten.”
—Új Könyvek (Budapest)