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G. Gruen
The Uniform
G. Gruen, author
With only hours until his transport to a death camp, a Jewish labor camp prisoner stumbles across the body of a murdered Gestapo officer. The dead man's uniforms offers the prisoner his last chance to survive, perhaps even to escape. His challenge? Repairing the gashed and bloodied tunic under the noses of his SS captors.
In this impressive debut, screenplay writer Gruen makes the most of his premise—a Jew’s desperate efforts to survive the Nazis—and conveys the horrors of the Holocaust on a small scale. Since 1939, David Korda, who received a first-rate medical education at Prague’s finest university, has been reduced to menial work as a German prisoner, “grading roads, laying rail ties and mining salt.” In 1944, he’s imprisoned in an Austrian labor camp, but his luck enduring the harsh treatment and deprivation is running out. With transfer to a death camp imminent, Korda gets an unexpected piece of good fortune. An SS officer at the labor camp, Karsten Hausler, is killed by his mistress, Petra, during a fight following his discovery of her Jewish ancestry. Korda, who’s been treating Petra’s horse, finds Hausler’s corpse concealed in the horse’s straw-filled wagon and realizes that he might be able to escape by wearing the dead man’s uniform. The ruse sets up numerous fraught situations. The author maintains a high level of tension as he keeps readers guessing how everything will play out. Gruen is off to a fine start. (Self-published)
Historical Novel Society

The Uniform is a historical thriller set across Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Austria during the Second World War. It follows David Korda, a Hungarian Jewish medical student, who has the misfortune of taking his final exams in Prague as the Germans march in. He is expelled and eventually pressed into slave labour. David keeps himself going by practicing medicine as best he can. After five years of ‘grading roads, laying rail ties, and mining salt,’ his end finally looks near when he is ordered to Ebensee concentration camp, which is a virtual death sentence. However, a glimmer of hope emerges when he is taken to treat a horse for a senior Gestapo officer, an opportunity David seizes for all it’s worth.

This is an intriguing parable of the human spirit, of how someone who is completely powerless, at the bottom of the pile, can overcome a ruthless and cold-blooded enemy with just their wits and courage, necessity being the mother of invention. The prose has a melodic black humour that underpins David Korda’s resilience and his will to survive, even when there is no hope. David suffers a never-ending litany of disaster that racks up the tension, with obstacle after obstacle, as he battles to overcome adversity in this edgy and thoughtfully written book.