4.5 stars rounded up to 5. A really good book.
I've read several books about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany's concentration camps - Elie Wiesel's Night, Roman Frister's The Cap, Heinz Heger's The Men with the Pink Triangle. Surprisingly, none of them brought home to me on a personal level the severity of conditions in the camps, like Berg's book has. The heavy labor, the randomness of why one person dies and another lives. The starvation-level rations - including days or weeks where the inmates scrounged for anything to eat - shoe leather, dandelions and grass, and (in at least one case) cannibalism of the recently deceased. And the constant emotional wearing down, so that witnesses to the cannibalism just sat and watched, unable to find the energy or empathy to stop the act.
While Wiesel's story is that of the Jewish experience, and Heger's from the viewpoint of a gay man, Berg's memoir is from the viewpoint of a French teenager who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - the finest example of his "Shithouse Luck". (In fact, the "Scheisshaus Luck" of the title has two meanings - Berg's bad luck that causes him to be sent to Auschwitz, and the incredible instances of luck in that "shithouse" that made it possible for him to survive.) It was especially significant to me that, in addition to the groups we've known of that were sent to the camps - Jews, Romani, Communists, Jehova's Witnesses, criminals and political prisoners - the camps also included random citizens from Germany and the occupied countries, sent there by whim or as payback. The Auschwitz sub-camp of Monowitz (one of the four camps experienced by Berg) even had a contingent of British POWs - though, because of the Geneva Convention and regular Red Cross packages, conditions for them were far better than for the majority.
Although the memories in the book are Berg's, the completeness of the memoir is thanks to Berg's cowriter, Brian Brock, who took Berg's original manuscript, asked Berg questions to flesh out details, polished it, and helped to bring everything together in the final product. Both men admit it was a painful process, reliving (or, in Brock's case, forcing Berg to relive) the experience of the concentration camps. But the result is a stark, clear picture of everyday life in the camps.