Saturday, March 13, 2010
This military history volume needed a few operations of its own. It had been well-used, battered, and repaired with duct tape, clear packing tape, and hot glue--the evil triumvirate, I call them. An unidentifiable sticky substance created the white patch on the front cover. The owner, a soft-spoken World War II veteran, had loaned the book and other memorabilia to a school class. I enjoyed working on the book, despite the challenges, and delivered it to the gentleman just this morning. He is happy with the repairs.
I asked him a few questions, since he'd told me that the book was one of only 100 copies. It's filled with photographs, declassified documents, and maps. As is true of so many of that generation, he was reticent and modest. But he'd been involved in all the operations described, and he'd been one of those who entered Auschwitz for the first time. He said the soldiers used eyedroppers to drip water into the mouths of the prisoners, 10 drops at a time. Later they added sugar to the water. By the third day, the suffering people trusted them enough to voluntarily open their mouths. Gradually nourishment was added until they could tolerate solid food again.
I told him it had been a pleasure to work on this book for him. He smiled. "There's something about this book I haven't told you," he replied. "A man called me recently and offered [several thousand] dollars for it."
I sincerely thanked him for not telling me that until after the work was completed!
This book, and its owner, have a heroic story to tell. I will never know the full extent of it. But even just this glimpse is a privilege.