Hell on Earth (Hardcover)
Wayne State University Press, 9780814344361, 478pp.
Publication Date: October 1, 2017
Hell on Earth is the second book written by Avigdor Hameiri (born Feuerstein; 1890-1970) about his experiences as a Russian prisoner of war during the second half of World War I. Translator Peter C. Appelbaum first became interested in Hameiri's story after learning that one quarter of the Austro-Hungarian army was captured and imprisoned, and that the horrific events that took place at this time throughout Russia and central Asia are rarely discussed in scholarly texts. Available for the first time to an English-speaking audience, this reality-driven novel is comparable to classics like All Quiet on the Western Front and The Gulag Archipelago.
The text is deeply tragic, while allowing some humor to shine through in the darkest hour. The reader is introduced to a procession of complex characters with whom Hamieri comes into contact during his imprisonment. The narrator watches his friends die one by one until he is released in 1917 with the help of Russian Zionist colleagues. He then immigrates to Israel in 1921. Hameiri's perspective on the things surrounding him-the Austro-Hungarian Army, the Russian people and countryside, the geography of Siberia, the nascent Zionist movement, the Russian Revolution and its immediate aftermath-offers a distinct personal view of a moment in time that is often overshadowed by the horrors of the Holocaust. In his preface, Appelbaum argues that World War I was the original sin of the twentieth century-without it, the unthinkable acts of World War II would not have come to fruition.
With an introduction by Avner Holtzman, Hell on Earth is a fascinating, albeit gruesome, account of life in prison camps at the end of the First World War. Fans of historical fiction and war memoirs will appreciate the historic value in this piece of literature.