Could you survive 10 years in a concentration camp?
‘Spark of life‘ is a 1952 novel by Erich Maria Remarque (author of the famous war novel ‘All quiet on the western front’) and is a fictional documentary-style tale featuring prisoner number 509.
Originally an editor, 509 was thrown in prison due to his political views, and when that prison became Mellern Concentration Camp during World War II, he was absorbed into the mass of Jewish and other prisoners. Now in the ‘small camp’, which is where prisoners unable to work anymore are sent to die from starvation or disease, he is intent on staying under the radar. He identifies solely as 509 – he doesn’t dare think of the future or remember the past when he had a name. Surviving hour by hour is all that matters.
When the nearby town starts being bombed by the Americans, 509 realises that all is not lost. He sets about inspiring his fellow prisoners to have hope again, fanning the spark of life to survive until they are rescued. Of course, in the meantime, the SS and Nazi Commandant are intent on erasing any evidence of their activities.
To me, this seemed a very realistic portrayal of what life may have been like for a concentration camp prisoner, and also in the attitude and behaviour of the Nazi characters, who considered the people in the camps as less than human, and often less than animals. This authenticity is to be expected I suppose, considering the author was a German soldier who probably witnessed similar events.
It was not a pleasant read, with graphic descriptions of torture and cruelty. But despite all that, it had a strong impact, ultimately inspiring and it has lingered in my memory long after the final word. 4/5
– Natalie Raynel