Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal

Thomas Buergenthal's memoir, A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy, is a must read, not just for those interested in the Holocaust. He was born in 1934 in Czechoslovakia shortly after Hitler became chancellor of Germany. When the Nazis began persecuting the Jews, his parents were forced to give up their hotel in Lubochna and move to Poland, first to Katowice, then to the Ghetto of Kielce.

Buergenthal says much of his survival during the war was due to luck. The title of the book stems from his mother's visit to a fortune teller, who called her son "a lucky child." Buergenthal miraculously survives the liquidation of the ghetto and upon arrival at Auschwitz, he avoids the selection process that meant immediate death for children, the elderly, and the sick.

Buergenthal describes his experiences in Auschwitz, on the Auschwitz Death Transport to Sachsenhausen, and coming to terms with these events in the aftermath of war. Because he wrote his story more than 50 years after the war, his memories are colored by time and his experiences as an adult. It is no doubt a different story than he would have told if he wrote it right after the war, but I think giving himself time to grow up, create new memories, analyze human nature with regard to the Holocaust, and take stock of his experiences as an international human rights judge provides a unique perspective.

Buergenthal experienced so much pain and loss and witnessed many horrors and murders when he was just a child, not much older than my daughter is now. It broke my heart to read his stories of the ghetto (including memories of a German man who would walk the streets of the ghetto and shoot random residents in the back of the head), the concentration camps, and the death transport. He was hungry and tired and always needing to stay alert to avoid the gas chambers, and no matter how much he attributes his survival to luck, a lot of it had to do with perseverance, inner strength, and the desire to live. The fact that he was so young when the war began means he didn't have a normal childhood and knew nothing but hardships, which is sad yet contributed to his survival as well. There was a passage in the book where he mentions that his mother lost the best years of her life to the camps, yet because he was so young, he was able to begin a new life after the war. Another passage that struck me was his determination to break the cycle of hatred, noting that living in Germany after the war helped him to not hate all Germans because of what the Nazis did -- but friends who settled in other countries after the war were not able to overcome their hatred.

Buergenthal writes as though he is talking to you, and he includes plenty of details in his recollections so that I felt like I journeyed back into time with him. I think his story is important, as are all stories from Holocaust survivors, and I was upset to read in the acknowledgements that it took so long to publish A Lucky Child in the U.S. and the U.K. because many believe there is nothing left to say about the Holocaust. If anything, we need to be reminded so that we can work toward preventing such atrocities in the future.

To read an excerpt from A Lucky Child, click here.

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A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal is the 9th book I've read for the WWII reading challenge at War Through the Generations.

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A Lucky Child also was reviewed by:

Luxury Reading
Book Reviews by Bobbie
Reading Extravaganza
Shhh I'm Reading...
Books and Cooks
Devourer of Books

If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of A Lucky Child from Hachette for review purposes.



16 comments:

Serena said...

Sounds like a great book. I have this in my WWII reading pile for the summer months...you'd think I'd be reading happier novels then...hmmm.

Toni said...

It sounds like an important book to read. I hope to get this one and read it in 2009. Thank you for the very good review.

Ti said...

There is something so incredibly tragic about a child who is not able to enjoy his/her childhood. In one sense, the mere act of being a child can protect us since we don't fully understand what is going on around us, but in another sense...not undetstanding makes it terrifying too.

Julie P. said...

Great review! I'm looking forward to reading this one too!

Jo-Jo said...

Great review Anna...this book has been on my radar for quite awhile but you sold me on it. And whoever would make a comment that there is nothing left to say about the holocaust should be reading this book themselves! Shame on them.

bermudaonion said...

Thanks for a great review - this sounds like an important book and I look forward to reading it.

Dar said...

I've seen quite a few reviews for this one and most agree it is an important book. I've got it on my list and hope to read it one day. Great review Anna.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Heavy stuff man. I agree, and probably because of this, I DO read things that are so incredibly heavy. It is my own little way of paying tribute. I feel so much pain for this guy's childhood and innocence that was lost. It is ironic that the book is named what it is.

♔ jessica.marie said...

Oh I am glad that this turned out to be a good read, since it is sitting on my shelf waiting for review ;)

I do agree that there are a lot of Holocaust, but as long as the writer has an original voice or approaches it a different way I think there could always be more books on the subject. It is true that everyone should learn the mistakes of the Holocaust but there can only be so many books that say the same exact thing, readers will get bored and publishers will lose money.

Staci said...

This is a book that I have on my TBR list. Can't wait to read it!

Teddyree said...

A beautiful emotional review, thank you!

Anna said...

Serena: It is a heartbreaking book, but it's also hopeful in that he survived.

Toni: I hope you get a chance to read it. I don't think you can forget this story; it really gives you a lot to ponder.

Ti: That's exactly it. I wish he'd had a different childhood, but if he'd known something other than hardship, he might not have survived.

Julie: I hope you get to read it soon. I'd love to know what you think.

Jo-Jo: Thanks! I can't wait to hear your thoughts on it. I think that a lot of the survivors' stories have similarities, maybe that's why people think it's all been said? Still, that doesn't diminish the importance of each survivors' story. There's always something more we can learn and the fact that it shouldn't ever happen again really needs to be driven home.

Bermudaonion: Thanks! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the book. I agree it's an important read.

Dar: Thanks! This would be a perfect one for the WWII challenge.

Sandy: Buergenthal says a lot about the title and how when he tells people he was lucky they are taken aback. It is hard to read these books, but I think they are so important.

jessica.marie: I'm looking forward to your thoughts on this book.

Staci: Let me know if you read it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Teddyree: Thanks!

lilly said...

First of all, great review! I'm very happy that you liked it, it's an important book.
Second of all, thanks for linking my review to yours. Many, many thanks.
And third of all (a lot of "of all's" here huh?) of course it would be okay if you linked it to War Through Generations, I'd be very very appreciative if you did as a matter of fact :D

bookreviewsbybobbie said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for the thought provoking review; I really enjoyed reading it. It is such a moving story and I'm so glad that people are reading it!!
I appreciate your linking my review to your own! :-)

That sure is one nifty reading challenge you've got going on...I can't think of a more worthwhile one!

((hugs))

Scrappy Cat said...

This sounds like a great book - I'm adding it to my list.

Anna said...

Lilly: Thanks all around!

Bobbie: You're more than welcome to join us for the challenge! ;)

Scrappy Cat: I'd love to know what you think if you get a chance to read it.