Our reading of Auschwitz is so conditioned by the size of the crime that is hard to think of a ‘normal’ Auschwitz, operating as a recognisable institution. I found I recognised more than I was expecting from the simple fact of being an ex-army brat. For most several thousand general staff serving there, it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. The administration blocks were well away from incoming trains and selection ramps. It had its own telephone area code, 2258, and free Mattoni mineral water was introduced for staff, like it was some yuppie-style accessory. The place became the biggest black market in Europe — making corruption the camp’s other big secret — but it wasn’t until I learned of a civil war going on between rival garrison factions — including, most extraordinarily, a reformist clique — that I knew I had an angle in, different from the usual ones.

Pale Horse Riding by Chris Petit is published by Simon & Schuster

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