Review: A Lucky Child

Name of Book: A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy

By: Thomas Buergenthal

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co

Copyright Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 157
Format: Nonfiction; Autobiography
Reason for Reading: Strong interest in subject matter
Rating: A+

“How can those who have never been put to the test undersTand how human nature may bend under duress? Why does one man become a pitiless Kapo and victimize an old friend or even his own relative? What makes one man choose to exercise power through cruelty, while another — from exactly the same background — refuses to do so in the name of enfeebled and downtrodden humanity?”

Elie Wiesel poses this unanswerable question in his forward to Buergenthal’s memoirs of his early childhood in a warm and loving family, followed by incredible tortures in the ghetto of Kielce in Poland, to Auschwitz, the death march to and eventual liberation from Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. Both Wiesel and Buergenthal muse on how the story would have been different had it been written shortly after the events described, instead of 60+ years later. Regardless, it is a powerful, horrifying, beautiful testament to the indomitable spirit of mankind.

Miracle after miracle occurred, allowing a ten-year-old boy to survive where millions were less fortunate.  Buergenthal shares the names and stories of different men and women who helped him when his need was greatest. Sadly, after so many of these people and their heroic acts are discussed, he notes that he never knew what happened to them, but he never saw or heard from them again. Thanks to this book, though, their names live on as testaments to goodness and nobility.

What I liked best: The stories of those who acted nobly to save this child from death.  I was particularly moved by Norwegian Odd Nansen’s story.  I also enjoyed the photographs.

What I liked least: There was nothing not to like about this book.

The question I keep coming back to is that of what makes the difference between someone who becomes the abuser, the torturer, the imprisoner, the  murderer, and someone who retains all that is best of humanity. What would I have done were I in Buergenthal’s shoes? In Nansen’s shoes? What about you?

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11 Responses to Review: A Lucky Child

  1. jehara says:

    I also have a great interest in reading about the Holocaust, although, I do have to spread out my reading on this matter because it can be quite upsetting. The last book I read about it was The Book Thief-a phenomenal book-and what kept coming up for me was the question of hiding a Jewish person. Would I do it? I feel very strongly that I would. I just don’t see how I could not. Hiding a Jewish person would be my way of doing something. A way to rebel against the regime.

    • I completely understand the need to spread out your reading. I have to do the same thing or I get wound so tightly it’s hard to function. I think I’d hide a Jewish person, or fight in the resistance, or do whatever I could to stand up against such injustice.

  2. Bumbles says:

    The moral question posed reminds me of the quote by Pastor Martin Niemoeller that I saw at the Holocaust memorial in Boston:

    “They came first for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist

    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant

    Then they came for me,
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

    So yeah – I’m pretty sure I would do everything I could to help the victims, whether I was one of them or not. Thanks for sharing this important book.

  3. Margot says:

    Faith, I love the way you reviewed this book. This is a tough subject to read and experience in your head. I know your imagination must have put you into many of the scenes in the book. When I read a book that covers the Holocaust my emotions are all over the place and it stays with me for a long time after I put the book down.

    Overall, I’m amazed that there wasn’t an outpouring of acts of revenge against the people (and their families) who worked in the concentration camps. I guess it speaks to the amazing ability of humans to forgive one another. Although I think forgiveness is important, I don’t believe it equals forgetfulness. That’s why I believe the museums and books like this one are important. We need to be reminded of these horrors so we are aware of them when they happen in again.

    A book I read not too long ago, set in Germany during the Holocaust, was Heidegger’s Glasses. It was a fictional account, based on facts, and set in concentration camps. Also very moving.

    • Margot, another friend recommended Heidegger’s Glasses. It’s in my TBR list. Talking about acts of revenge reminds me of a passage in the book. He’s back in Germany with his mother, and recalls standing on the balcony of their apartment and watching all these happy German families walking up and down the street, and felt a strong and sudden desire to be standing there with a machine gun and shooting them all down. He really had to work through that anger, and you know he can’t be the only one who felt that way.

  4. izzybella says:

    I have to admit, books about the Houlocast are usually difficult for me to get through, just because the entire concept is so completely appalling. But it’s for that very reason that I think the books need to be written and to be READ!

    The name is escaping right now…must go research it out, but the last one I read was about a little blonde girl who wound up being Hitler’s poster child for the “perfect” human. Blonde hair, blue eyes, cherubic face. She writes about being toted to rallies and whatnot, never understanding what it was she was standing for. It’s a heartbreaking read, all the more so, for when she does realize what her face meant to Hitler.

    I’ll definitely be adding this to the TBR list.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Sounds like a powerful read. I always ponder these questions too. What makes seemingly ordinary people act so cruelly. The Holocaust could not have happened if people had spoken up but look at Darfur and Rwanda. There are so many recent examples of people ignoring heinous things. I’ll put this one on my list to read.

  6. Thank you for visiting, Kathleen. You’re right–great evils continue to happen in the world by people ostrich-like burying their heads in the sand.

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