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The Prisoners of Breendonk
Cover of The Prisoners of Breendonk
The Prisoners of Breendonk
Personal Histories from a World War II Concentration Camp
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Stories of the Holocaust victims imprisoned at the little-known Belgium concentration camp. "A sobering study of man's inhumanity to man."—Booklist (starred review)Fort Breendonk was built in the...
Stories of the Holocaust victims imprisoned at the little-known Belgium concentration camp. "A sobering study of man's inhumanity to man."—Booklist (starred review)Fort Breendonk was built in the...
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  • Stories of the Holocaust victims imprisoned at the little-known Belgium concentration camp. "A sobering study of man's inhumanity to man."—Booklist (starred review)
    Fort Breendonk was built in the early 1900s to protect Antwerp, Belgium, from possible German invasion. Damaged at the start of World War I, it fell into disrepair . . . until the Nazis took it over after their invasion of Belgium in 1940. Never designated an official concentration camp by the SS and instead labeled a "reception" camp where prisoners were held until they were either released or transported, Breendonk was no less brutal. About 3,600 prisoners were held there—just over half of them survived. As one prisoner put it, "I would prefer to spend nineteen months at Buchenwald than nineteen days at Breendonk."
     
    With access to the camp and its archives and with rare photos and artwork, James M. Deem pieces together the story of the camp by telling the stories of its victims—Jews, communists, resistance fighters, and even common criminals—for the first time in an English-language publication. Leon Nolis's searing photography of the camp in its current state accompany the wide range of archival images.
     
    The story of Breendonk is one you will never forget.
    "Deem's unflinching look at the prisoner experience at Breendonk . . . gives voice to Breendonk's victims . . . a thorough history."—VOYA
    "An important book that demands serious consideration and discussion."—Booklist (starred review)
    "For many, Breendonk had been only the beginning, and by following a handful of prisoners to their various ends, Deem illustrates that each story had a unique trajectory."—Horn Book Magazine

About the Author-

  • James M. Deem is the author of numerous books of nonfiction and fiction for children, including Faces From The Past: Forgotten People of North America and the 2009 Sibert Honor Book, Bodies From The Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery Of The Past. A retired college professor, Deem and his wife live in Tucson, Arizona, where he writes full time.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    May 1, 2015
    Breendonk does not share the infamy of such Nazi concentration camps as Buchenwald or Dachau, but in this insightful and revealing history, Deem rescues this Belgian prison from near obscurity and tells the stories of some of the thousands who suffered and died there. Fort Breendonk was built at the beginning of the 20th century along the Antwerp-Brussels highway, one in a chain of fortresses constructed to defend Belgium against a German invasion. Damaged at the start of World War I, it fell into disrepair. In August 1940, a few months after occupying Belgium, the Germans turned the fortress into a detention camp. Although it was never officially designated as a concentration camp by the SS, the treatment its prisoners endured was no less brutal. Deem draws heavily upon prisoners' accounts to tell the story of the camp and its victims, but the information is sometimes sketchy and the narrative, choppy. Nolis' photographs of the camp as it is now establish mood and setting; they are complemented by black-and-white archival photographs and reproductions of remarkable sketches by Jacques Ochs, a prisoner assigned by the commandant to create portraits of prisoners and depictions of camp life. This well-researched history is best suited for readers who already have solid background knowledge of the Holocaust and an interest in delving further into the subject. (photos, maps, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 14 & up)

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from October 1, 2015

    Gr 8 Up-This title sheds light on the Nazi prison camp Breendonk. Never designated as a concentration camp, Breendonk (an old fort intended to defend Antwerp, Belgium, in World War I) was referred to as a "reception" camp. Regardless of its title, Breendonk held about 3,600 prisoners between 1940 and 1945. Jews, communists, common criminals, and freedom fighters all found themselves subject to incarceration. Life in Breendonk was no different than that in any of the better-known camps. It served as a "feeder" to Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and several other camps. This narrative is told through the lives of various prisoners who lived (and died) there. Liberally illustrated with black-and-white photographs of the camp, its officials, and the prisoners, the book is well written and well organized. Many drawings done by one of the prisoners are also included, and captions add to the content. An afterword concludes the stories of some of the prisoners. VERDICT The overall quality of this volume makes this title about a little-known camp a strong choice.-Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

    Copyright 2015 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from April 1, 2015
    Grades 9-12 *Starred Review* Though never officially designated a concentration camp, the Belgian fortress of Breendonk was equally brutal while occupied by the Nazis during World War II. Writes Deem, three principles guided the treatment of prisoners: starve them, overwork them, and beat them often. The many stories he recounts of the camp's prisoners bear grim evidence of those horrors. By personalizing their experiences, Deem brings to vivid life the Kafkaesque realities of camp existence. Prisoners, who were seldom told why they had been arrested, were rarely tried for a crime and almost never given specific sentences to serve. Jews and Aryans alike were incarcerated, and all were subject to a mind-numbing routine of backbreaking labor and random, unpredictable beatings. Perhaps worst of all was the threat of starvation, the reason Breendonk was called by some prisoners the camp of the creeping death. Just over half survived this treatment, and many of the Jewish prisoners who did were sent to Auschwitz to be killed. Deem has done remarkable research, gathering not only facts but also photographs of the prisoners, humanizing those whose dignity was stripped from them in the camp. A sobering study of man's inhumanity to man, and an important book that demands serious consideration and discussion.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2015, American Library Association.)

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    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Personal Histories from a World War II Concentration Camp
James M. Deem
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James M. Deem
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