As a child in Hamburg, Germany, Celia Landau led a cultured and privileged life. Her father Benjamin had a study full of books and frequently entertained renowned visitors, including philosopher Martin Buber and Rabbi Paul Holzer. This began to unravel when the Nazis came to power. In the summer of 1934, the family traveled to a German spa in Bad Schwartau. As their visit ended, the spa´s owner gleefully announced that Hitler would deal with the Jews. The next fall, nine-year-old Celia´s grades began to falter as former school friends labeled her ´´Drechtjude.´´ In 1937, the family were forced out of their condominium at Hohe Weide 25. In October, 1938, her father was carted to prison, then deported to Dachau. In February 1941, a Gestapo agent deliver his ´´ashes´´ in a cigar box.
Eight months later, Celia, now 16, was deported with her mother Sala and sister Karin to Lodz. Here they shared an unheated room on Zgierska Street with Julie and Julius Eichengreen and five others. As the vast majority of Jews were shipped like cattle from Lodz, the couple made Celia promise, if ever she went to New York, to find their son, who had left Europe years earlier. On July 13, 1942, Celia´s starving and sick mother Sala died.
Before being herself deported to Auschwitz in August 1944, Celia starved and scraped to survive, and lost her sister Karin as well. Her one friend from that period, Elli Sabin, traveled with her in the final transport from Lodz to new horrors. Here she came face to face with the dreaded Dr. Mengele, slaved for some months in an outdoor construction site at the Neuengamme subcamp and in the Blom and Foss Shipyards. In October, she was transferred to Arbeitslager Sasel. Here, to gain access to important files, she promised to transfer her family´s house in Altona-Luna Park outside Hamburg to an SS guard. The ploy worked, and she memorized the names and addressed of 42 Nazi guards.
In March 1945, Celia Landau was again transferred, this time to Bergen-Belsen, the disease-ridden camp where Anne Frank and her sister died of Typhus. Fortunately for Laudau, a month later, the camp was liberated, on April 15, 1945. Here she told a British major of her exploit, and was swiftly introduced to Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Tilling, of Britain´s War Crimes Investigations unit. When friends Elli, Hela Dimand and Sabina Zarecki corroborated her story, the British swiftly transferred Celia Landau to Hanover Germany, where she helped bring 17 Nazis to justice.
Her assistance to the British War Crimes unit gave Celia new opportunities. What she did with them is but one of the things that makes this book fascinating. This is the story of an extraordinary woman who sought revenge only through her own good deeds.
The one thing missing from this book is what gave her the courage to go on. Alyssa A. Lappen