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
“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?