The Music Maker of Auschwitz IV, by Jaci Byrne • Glam Adelaide

A poignant and illuminating generational story of a WWII prisoner of war that will make you appreciate the luxuries of everyday life.

Have you ever been so encapsulated by a story that the world around you dissolves? The music maker of Auschwitz IV is a tale that is sure to have that effect. It’s reminiscent of the stories your grandfather used to tell you when you sat on his lap as a young child, but without the comedic exaggerations of him walking up and down both ways to school.

This true story of drum major Henry Barnes Jackson was told by his granddaughter and author of The music maker of Auschwitz IV, Jaci Byrne, which presents the incredible experiences of her grandfather. When World War II begins to encroach on Britain, Drum Major Jackson embraces his beloved wife, Mabel, and bids farewell to his four daughters to once again defend his beloved homeland. Shortly after arriving on foreign soil, Jackson is captured by the Germans (or Jerries, as he calls them). His time as a prisoner of war (POW) is depicted in his diary entries detailing the evil, the terrible, and the outright atrocity of five years in captivity.

Life as a prisoner of war offers a completely different perspective on World War II than one might get in history class. A major aspect is the Geneva Convention and how it provided prisoners of war, like Drum Major Jackson, with some comforts. They were allowed to receive mail and parcels from the Red Cross (inconsistent as they were), but the German soldiers could deal with the men as they pleased because the rules of the Convention seemed almost arbitrary at the time. Jackson’s diaries depict soldiers inflicting mental anguish on prisoners of war with overblown German propaganda, occasional violence, extensive searches of bunks, and the subsequent theft of anything good. The inconsistent treatment and lack of attention to the rules of the Convention is quite confusing and one can only imagine what it might have been like for men at the time.

The music maker of Auschwitz IV puts things into perspective regarding what we may take for granted in our daily lives. Jackson and his companions walked miles a day, worked through yards of snow in wooden clogs, received a meager serving of watered-down potato soup every day, and had their lives constantly threatened. Comparatively, our lives seem rather cushy. Sadly, some of the POWs succumbed to the ever-present misery, but Jackson, for the most part, remained humble and stable in his mental state. He attributed it all to the music.

The music was truly the saving grace for Jackson and the men. German soldiers quickly understood the talents of the drum major and allowed him to form and conduct an orchestra, create plays and present performances. Any touch of musicality was fun in the horrible camps, so much so that even the Jerries enjoyed his tunes! They called him “Kapellmeister” or music maker, which is the book’s namesake. The music lifted everyone’s spirits and carried them through the madness of everyday life in POW camps.

Byrne does an impressive job of making the reader feel like he knows his grandfather. She notes in the author’s note that “men of this era simply did not express their emotions, and certainly not in the war diaries”. One could then infer that the tugging of the heartstrings felt in the words of longing for Jackson’s family, and the care and consideration for his companions, are Byrne’s brilliant contributions to the diary entries. Drum Major Jackson’s voice is also remarkably carried beyond the newspapers and into an unwritten story of his post-war life that was heavily researched and eloquently written by Byrne.

It’s no secret that this book has a lot of heavy content. Still, if you can look beyond that and see the resilience and ingenuity of people during World War II, you’ll definitely appreciate The music maker of Auschwitz IV.

Reviewed by Alessa Young

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Simon and Schuster
Published: March 2021
Recommended retail price: $29.99

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Alice P. Darby