Synopses & Reviews
Anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer has written an intimate ethnography that weaves personal family narrative with twentieth-century history to present a daughter’s account of her Polish Catholic mother’s World War II experiences as a prisoner-doctor in Jewish slave labor camps in Nazi Germany. Jadwiga Lenartowicz Rylko (known as Jadzia) was training to be a pediatrician in Poland when the war began. Arrested at the start of 1944, she endured three concentration camps, a 42-day death march, and the challenges of “surviving survival” – rebuilding a new life, first as a refugee doctor in Germany and later as an immigrant in the United States.
A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps is structured around Jadzia’s voice—using quotes from interviews that Rylko-Bauer conducted with her aging mother, but also incorporates the daughter’s own journey of rediscovering her family’s past. The resulting narrative about survival, displacement, memory, and resilience demonstrates how powerful historical forces impact individual lives, while augmenting our understanding of World War II, the Holocaust, and the struggle of immigrants in the aftermath of these tragic events.
The story is enriched with personal photographs and letters, archival documents, maps, and testimonies; it also includes historical notes and a bibliography for those readers who desire more indepth background information. Written in an accessible style, the book is appropriate for classroom use but will also appeal to general readers interested in biography, memoir, women’s history, the Holocaust as well as the Polish Catholic experience of World War II and the postwar period.
"Compelling. Riveting. Exquisite. Barbara Rylko-Bauer brings an anthropologist’s mind, eye, heart, and ear to the untold story of a young Polish physician ensnared as subject and accessory to the Nazi project of slave labor and mass murder. In no uncertain terms, A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps reaffirms the dignity of survival, resilience, and solidarity in the face of human suffering. The book sets a high bar for the new genre of intimate ethnography." Gelya Frank (University of Southern California), author of Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America
"Barbara Rylko-Bauer has written an extraordinary memoir that not only tells her mother’s story but places it in a well researched historical context. [It] is a rare and wonderful achievement, easily the best book I have ever read about a gentile … survivor. … Rylko-Bauer’s skill as a scholar is matched by her skill as a writer and her sensitivity as a daughter. … Beautifully edited and published by the University of Oklahoma Press, this is the extraordinary chronicle of one woman’s struggle to remake her life in America after enduring unspeakable hardship in Europe." Leonard Kniffel, former editor-in-chief, American Libraries — from his blog, “A Polish Son,” June 28, 2014.
"Every so often one comes across a book so engrossing that, as the truism goes, one can’t put it down.…A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps is a gripping and compelling work of non-fiction that strikes a perfect balance between historical research and personal narrative, an “intimate ethnography” of one woman’s remarkable journey from one of the worst recorded abysses of human experience, retold with humility, pathos and empathy." Girija Sankar, newpages.com
"'You can’t imagine!' This is Dr. Jadwiga [Jadzia] Lenartowicz Rylko’s frequent and emphatic punctuation in recounting fragments of her life to her daughter. But thanks to Barbara Rylko-Bauer’s forceful biography and memoir of her mother, we can imagine what it might be like to be the young physician, seized as a political prisoner and forced to work as a doctor in the sprawling network of concentration and labor camps and prisons that constituted … the other front line of World War II. … The backdrop to all the detail is, in Rylko-Bauer’s words, ‘the tremendous suffering of ordinary people’ caught up in deadly tumult. A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps shows us clearly that neither Rylko-Bauer nor her mother is in any way ordinary. Through their incandescent collaboration, the rough stone of memory is tumbled and polished, emerging as a fiery gem." Paul Farmer, "The Tremendous Suffering of Ordinary People", the Boston Review, January 5, 2015.
"A thoughtful and compelling narrative that shouldn’t be missed." Mary Lanham, Polish American Journal, July 2015
About the Author
Barbara Rylko-Bauer is a medical anthropologist whose writing focuses on health care inequalities, applied anthropology, political violence, the Holocaust, and intimate ethnography. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology and is Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University. She was Book Review Editor for Medical Anthropology Quarterly and has authored numerous chapters and articles. Her most recent books are Global Health in Times of Violence (2009) and A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps (2014).
Barbara was born in 1950 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, to Polish parents who had been imprisoned during World War II in German concentration (mother) and prisoner-of-war (father) camps. The family immigrated to the United States near the end of 1950, where Barbara grew up in a Polish-American enclave of Detroit. She attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and then was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Kentucky in 1985. Barbara lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband, Daniel Bauer; they have one son, John.