On the opening page of the book we are given a rundown of its contents including the birth of Eva Brewster to a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin in 1922, her marriage at sixteen to Freddy Raphael was followed by the birth of their first daughter Reha. When Eva was just 20 in 1943 her family was sent to the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau of which Eva is one of the few inmates to survive. The Authoress recounts her story in the only way she is able using the name Daniella Raphael, her resistance name and her first husbands last name.
The book begins with Daniella being moved around prisons in an attempt by the Gestapo to get her to talk of what she knows of the resistance. The Authoress remembers "My little Reha was only a baby when I was forced to work in a factory","Reha was the first child at the centre in the morning and the last to be collected at night. I remember her forlorn little figure, sitting half asleep in a tiny chair in the huge, deserted play-room,".
We are told of the conditions of life for a Jewish family living stripped of their wealth with their yellow stars, their bank accounts frozen. In Berlin in 1943 "Jews were no longer given scarce milk, butter,eggs or fruit."
Daniella talks about her mothers job at an emergency ward "My mother told me of many, many old people who attempted suicide. Often their attempts were unsuccessful and they were taken to hospital to be nursed back to health only to be arrested and sent to an unknown, terrifying destiny."
As the family heads underground and in separate directions as not to be captured by the Gestapo a plan is hatched to send Reha to east Prussia to be taken care of, and in the middle of a cold windy night Daniella hands off Reha to a stranger and in that moment is left haunted by the fact that she forgot to give Reha a kiss goodbye.
Daniella is forced into an underground life in the resistance and in February of 1943 while waiting for a midnight meeting with resistance member she is arrested by the Gestapo and taken back to the police station where she is interrogated, but also meets her contact in the resistance who happens to be a police officer.
The following morning Daniella is taken to a field where she is forced to take off her clothes and stand in the snow to be executed by firing squad but is saved by her policeman contact in the resistance. Soon Daniella is on her way to a new prison in Ludwigshafen in which she recalls was a comfortable prison or better than what would come later.
As luck has it Daniella comes face to face with Freddy who has also been captured, and thanks to the kind warder allows them to spend a short time together after the Gestapo leave for the nights. Soon Daniella is joined in her cell by two school girls who take the prison and everything as a joke.
Daniella tells us "One day, therefor, the two girls and I were taken to the station and put on a prison train consisting of many carriages, with no windows other than small barred light shafts in the roof." We are than told of a journey passing through a number of different prisons before reaching Berlin.
In Berlin Daniella is freed to go find her mother but it is a trick and only a few blocks after freedom Daniella is again back in Gestapo hands. She is led to an office which contains a man dictating a letter to a "very glamorous secretary." Daniella describes the man as "tall, dark and handsome,". "His face seemed friendly and honest."
After the secretary leaves the man approaches Daniella and barks at her "Where is your child?", "He was towering over me know, his face revealing his true self.". The man precedes to beat her up blackening both eyes and knocking her out until he begins whipping her which bring Daniella to consciousness who screams "Oh, mother, help".
With this Daniella has reminded the man of her mother and she considers this a betrayal to her mother. The man makes now threats about what he is going to do to her mother. With more threats Daniella is removed from the mans presence and cared for by people she cannot see until she hears her mothers voice who has also been arrested, Daniella takes comfort in the belief that little Reha is safe somewhere in East Prussia.
On April 20th in honour of Hitlers birthday a large transport of young strong Jews were rounded up and deported including 500 boys and 500 girls of which none of the boys would survive. Daniella and her mother were also on the cattle cars along a number of young mothers with small children.
After days of travel the doors of the cattle car opened revealing only yellow mud with patches of poisoness grass while "Somebody whispered we were in Poland". Soon Daniella and her mother and the prisoners are standing at attention being judged by the infamous Dr.Mengele as to whether worker to the left or someone who needed rest to the right.
Those to the right were sent immediately to the gas chambers and those to the left were marched into the camp, the Authoress recalls the guards and german shepards, the sign over the camps entrance read "Arbiet Macht Frei ". Daniella and the ladies of her transport are marched into a room with a fire, behind the fire sat a man with a needle in the fire in which in turn each of the ladies are jabbed by the red hot needle.
When it became Daniella's turn "An SS man immediately twisted my arm back, almost dislocating my shoulder in the precess. I became number 51459." Once this has been done the ladies are corralled and ordered to take off their clothes and with that the SS guards advance on the women and tear off their dresses and all is removed in the presence of the leering guards.
The ladies are then taken back to their barrack where they meet the prisoner who will be in charge of the ladies and see their accommodation where they will sleep ten per cot. A rough first night is spent in darkness unable to move being repeatedly awakened by the screams of nightmares. Just before dawn the women are forced outside in the mud for the morning roll call. The rag covered women stand there for hours waiting to be counted while a few of the luckier ladies had died during the night.
The Barracks of the camp are laid out in rows surrounded by barbed wire and factories who's chimneys spew "An evil sickly-sweet smell" that covers the camp. A series of SS guards commit acts of savagery, mockery and murder upon the camps prisoners and soon the workers are herded into a shower room with only one working spigot, or letting the prisoners have showers and then turn off the water once the prisoners are lathered up.
Soon the ladies are assigned a work detail and are given uniforms and better rations though they are sent to do jobs that the SS expect only half to go back to barracks each night and guards are given bonuses for killing prisoners. As the defeat of Germany closes in we find the killing stepped up and supplies of gas running low so it is ordered that babies and small children will no longer be gassed but thrown right into the crematorium.
The book is an incredible journey of a descent into hell and the depravity of mankind but it is also a story of those who rose above the horrors to inspire survival of themselves and those around. The book is not long but puts into perspective the readers own problems against those experienced by Daniella and her mother.
"Vanished in Darkness" was an excellent read and a history which must remain told, if for nothing else so that such cruel history never repeats itself.