The Nazis Knew My Name by Magda Hellinger & Maya Lee
What an extraordinary true-life story! Magda Hellinger was only twenty-five years old when her life changed forever in March 1942. She was deported, along with nearly a thousand other young Slovakian women, to Poland. They were told they would be working at a shoe factory, when in fact, they were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The SS put Jewish prisoners in charge of the day-to-day running of the camp to reduce guard numbers and deflect the distrust of the prisoners, and Magda was one of the prisoners selected for these troublesome roles.
For over three years, Magda walked a perilously fine line: she tried to save as many lives as she could without coming under suspicion of the SS, which would have resulted in her execution.
This book is based on Magda’s memoir that she wrote, later completed by her daughter Maya’s extensive research, adding in other testimonies from Auschwitz survivors.
Of course, Magda could not save the poor souls that were ‘sent up the chimneys’ as soon as they arrived at the notorious death camp, but she did save many under her care, often putting herself at grave risk to do so. She built relationships with many women under her watch and some of the Nazi senior officers, including the Commandant Josef Kramer and one of the infamous Auschwitz guards, known to many as ‘The Hyena of Auschwitz.’
Some prisoners put into leadership roles were cruel collaborators with the Nazis, but Magda was not. There are numerous examples of her kindness and inherent goodness to the women under her care, whether it be finding shoes or medicines to help an individual or to the audacious time she saved 800 women from the gas chambers, thanks to a bottle of vodka and seizing an opportunity presented by a worried young German guard deployed to go to the Russian front the next day.
It’s a miracle that Magda survived. Many times, she was near death from starvation or illness, but she did survive and was eventually liberated, going on to have a fulfilled life, raising a family with Bela, a man she met when they were both in Auschwitz.
The Nazis Knew My Name details the horror and cruelty of the Holocaust, but this is also an inspiring story of how one woman with intelligence and survival instincts could help so many other prisoners around her. It shows the power of resilience and that goodness can still shine through amid hell on earth.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan
Simon & Schuster