Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah

"Charnel Houses Of Europe is the best Black Dog book to date, with some great Wraith material ... it gives us details of the Holocaust that history books are too squeamish to print."

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Reviewed by Mike Spera

I remember talking to a friend of mine a few years back, explaining what Wraith: The Oblivion was about. He liked Vampire, Mage, and Werewolf, but knew nothing about Wraith. I eventually got around to maelstroms, and explained them as storms that happen whenever there is a tragedy in the Skinlands, like a natural disaster or a war. He immediately said that he would imagine that the Holocaust would have created a maelstrom.

When we think of Wraith: The Oblivion, we think of ghosts that have not moved on because of something or someone: avenged murder, saying goodbye, taken too early, the regrets go on. And in human history, one event stands out as mankind's darkest hour, when hundreds, thousands, millions of people were robbed of their right to simply exist. A book on the Holocaust for Wraith: The Oblivion seemed inevitable.

In 1997, White Wolf released the best, most horrific book that the Black Dog line had ever produced to date. Charnel Houses Of Europe: The Shoah is written to be a sobering smack in the face, and it achieved just that. The artwork adds to the disturbing nature of the book: guns, corpses, barbed wire, skeletal figures of wraiths, skeletal figures of those soon to become wraiths, and of course the charnel houses themselves. The first thing that you'll see is a two-page spread of a Ferryman rowing an adult and a child away from a shoreline. Standing on the shore, waiting for his return, are hundred of souls, all patiently waiting their turn. Two are in the water, as if saying "Take me with you!" Somewhere in the sky you will see two words that drive home the theme of the entire book: Never Again.

The Foreword is written by Janet Berlinger, who (I guess) has written dozens of books on the Holocaust. I'm not sure what the exact point of her essay was, maybe just to show us that we have to remember. The Ghost Story (entitled "The Rusalka") is a short piece by Robert Hatch about a ghost that kills a girl as she trespasses in his haunt. The Introduction is a few dead-serious pages explaining what the book it and why White Wolf wrote it in the first place.

"The Telling Of The Agonies: A Chronicle Of The Millions" starts off the meat of the book. However, this is NOT a Wraith chronicle, this is an introduction to Hell itself. The beginning of the chapter is written as a real history behind the Jewish "problem" and, of course, the Final Solution. There are black sidebars set aside to explain things in a World Of Darkness sense, leaving the bulk of the chapter as pure fact. After the factual parts, the rest of the chapter falls under the heading of "Aftermath: The Shadowlands" which looks at the Holocaust in the usual World Of Darkness fashion.

"An Antechamber Of The Damned: The Theresienstadt Ghetto" details the camp that was going to be a model Jewish camp, to show how nice the Nazi's are for giving their captives places to eat and sleep and worship. How nice of them, right? Well, on the surface it would look nice (in case sanitary inspectors came 'a knocking) but underneath was a disease-ridden place where various plagues killed more prisoners than the Nazis did. It ends with sample characters, a map of the camp, and some story ideas.

"Behind The Wall: The Ghetto At Warszawa" gives info on the Warsaw Ghetto, which truly was a war zone in every sense of the word. It gives details of the Ghetto revolt, a heroic blow against the Nazis. It also gives characters, story ideas, and a map of the warzone.

"A Struggle For The Forsaken: Babi Yar" is one of the more disturbing parts, and it also includes my favorite character in the book: Nikolai Dimitrius, a Nazi who, once he found out about the death pits and the solution to the Jewish Problem, decided he would rather commit suicide than be part of the ungodly slaughter that was Babi Yar. Like the chapters before it, it contains characters and story hooks, but the map here is misprinted (oops!). You can go to White Wolf's web site to print out the correct map.

Finally, we get to "Behind The Wire: Oswiecim (Auschwitz-Birkenau)." In the real world, the mere mention of the name "Auschwitz" causes people to become uneasy. In the World Of Darkness, both the living AND the dead shudder at the thought of what goes on behind the wire at night. These pages give an exhaustive look at the geography, society, and factions of what is known as The Dark Kingdom Of Wire. As can be expected by now, story hooks, characters, and maps are also included.

So in the end, Charnel Houses Of Europe is the best Black Dog book to date, with some great Wraith material, too. I urge anyone with even a hunch that it might be worthwhile to go out and get a copy now. I personally give this book 5 out of 5 skulls, since it gives us details of the Holocaust that history books are too squeamish to print as well as ideas for characters and settings, and a view on how this horrific event effected Stygia and the World Of Darkness as a whole. A great Wraith supplement.

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