The 23rd Psalm: A Holo­caust Memoir

George Salton with Anna Salton Eisen

January 4, 2022

The 23rd Psalm: A Holo­caust Mem­oir is the pre­quel to Pil­lar of Salt: A Daugh­ter’s Life in the Shad­ow of the Holo­caust. Both are soon to be the basis of the ground­break­ing doc­u­men­tary film In My Father’s Words.

Twen­ty years since its first pub­li­ca­tion, this new anniver­sary edi­tion of the Holo­caust mem­oir of George Salton (then Luc­jan Salz­man), gives read­ers a per­son­al and pow­er­ful account of his sur­vival through one of the dark­est peri­ods in human his­to­ry. With heart­break­ing and hon­est reflec­tion, the author shares a grip­ping first-per­son nar­ra­tive of his trans­for­ma­tion from a Jew­ish eleven-year-old boy liv­ing hap­pi­ly in Tyczyn, Poland with his broth­er and par­ents, to his expe­ri­ences as a teenage vic­tim of grow­ing per­se­cu­tion, bru­tal­i­ty and impris­on­ment as the Nazis pur­sued the Final Solu­tion. The author takes the read­er back in time as he reveals in vivid and engross­ing details the painful mem­o­ries of life in his child­hood town dur­ing Nazi occu­pa­tion, the forced march before his jeer­ing and cold-eyed for­mer friends and neigh­bors as they are dri­ven from their homes into the crowd­ed and ter­ri­ble con­di­tions in the Rzes­zow ghet­to, and the heart-wrench­ing mem­o­ry of his final farewell as he is sep­a­rat­ed from his par­ents who would be sent in box­cars to the Belzec exter­mi­na­tion camp.
Alone at age 14, George begins a three-year hor­ror filled odyssey as part of a Daim­ler-Benz slave labor group that will take him through ten con­cen­tra­tion camps in Poland, Ger­many, and France. In Płaszów he digs up graves with his bare hands, in Flossen­bürg he labors in a stone quar­ry and in France he works as a pris­on­er in a secret tun­nel the Nazis have con­vert­ed into an arma­ments fac­to­ry. In every con­cen­tra­tion camp includ­ing Sach­sen­hausen, Braun­schweig, Ravens­brück and oth­ers, George recounts the ago­niz­ing and excru­ci­at­ing details of what it was like to bare­ly sur­vive the roll­calls, selec­tions, beat­ings, hunger, and despair he both endured and witnessed.
Of the 465 Jew­ish pris­on­ers with him in the labor group in the Rzeszów ghet­to in 1942, less than fifty were alive three years lat­er when the U.S. Army 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion lib­er­at­ed the Wöbbe­lin con­cen­tra­tion camp on the after­noon of May 2, 1945. George recalls not only the painful details of his sur­vival, but also the tales of his fel­low pris­on­ers, a small group who became more than friends as they shared their mea­ger rations, their frag­ile strength, and their wan­ing hope. The mem­oir moves us as we behold the life sus­tain­ing pow­ers of friend­ship among this band of young pris­on­ers. With grat­i­tude for his coura­geous lib­er­a­tors, Salton express­es his pow­er­ful emo­tions as he acknowl­edges his mirac­u­lous free­dom: I felt some­thing stir deep with­in my soul. It was my true self, the one who had stayed deep with­in and had not for­got­ten how to love and how to cry, the one who had cho­sen life and was still stand­ing when the last roll call ended.”

This new and sub­stan­tial­ly reworked Twen­ti­eth Anniver­sary Edi­tion incor­po­rates research based on recent­ly dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments relat­ed to George Salton’s con­cen­tra­tion camp expe­ri­ence, a new fore­word by Michael Beren­baum, a new after­word of George Salton’s unpub­lished speech­es, and an insert with new­ly dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments, pho­tographs and art­work by George Salton of his Holo­caust expe­ri­ences, includ­ing his self-por­trait on the cover.

Discussion Questions

George Salton’s chron­i­cle stands on a pin­na­cle as one of the most mov­ing and best-writ­ten mem­oirs of the Holo­caust. This 20th-anniver­sary edi­tion includes new­ly dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments and pho­tographs, his orig­i­nal art­work with draw­ings of the camps, and an impor­tant fram­ing” intro­duc­tion by Michael Berenbaum.

What makes this mem­oir so spe­cial is how Salton tells us about his three-year night­mare as a slave for the Nazis. He writes in seem­ing­ly sim­ple straight­for­ward prose, but his vivid descrip­tions make us feel as if we are there, with him, as he walks through the val­ley of the shad­ow of death” and some­how sur­vives ten camps.

His mem­oir begins with a lov­ing por­trait of his close-knit mid­dle-class fam­i­ly in the small Pol­ish towns of Tyczyn and Rzes­zow before the war. The dra­mat­ic decline from his com­fort­able life as the son of a promi­nent attor­ney is cap­tured in small steps until his fam­i­ly is forced into an enclosed ghet­to in the spring of 1942. They are plagued by con­stant hunger and, by win­ter, per­pet­u­al cold as well, as they sell the last of their dwin­dling pos­ses­sions. When his par­ents –and most of the oth­er Jews are deport­ed to the Belzec death camp (where they were mur­dered), only Salton, who is 14, and his broth­er Manek, who is 20, are spared – to become slave labor for the Nazis. Over the course of the next 3 years, Salton was sent to ten camps, suf­fer­ing con­stant hunger, bit­ter cold in the thread­bare cloth­ing he nev­er changed, and often excru­ci­at­ing pain. Salton and Manek tried to stay togeth­er and Manek heed­ed his mother’s part­ing plea for him to look after his 14-year-old younger broth­er, con­stant­ly help­ing him, both mate­ri­al­ly and psychologically.

Just when we are sure that George can­not sur­vive anoth­er day, he was lib­er­at­ed by Amer­i­can sol­diers and recov­ered” in Feldaf­ing DP camp. We then learn about his life in the Unit­ed States: mar­ry­ing, study­ing to become an engi­neer, work­ing, and rais­ing his family.

In the end, he wrote I appear to be a hap­py and secure man, liv­ing the Amer­i­can dream. That is true, but only some of the time. My past, filled with pain and trau­ma… is with me always.” How could it not be?