A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Suviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy, by Thomas Buergenthal, is a book I have added to my Holocaust memoir library.
Buergenthal didn’t disappoint me. It is not only a Holocaust memoir, but one written more than six decades after the fact, from the perspective of his childhood memories, and memories of his parents and friends, and memories of others he encountered throughout the years. Some might say that although he was born in 1934, and managed to survive the Holocuast, his memories might be colored by his youth and by time.
To some degree that could be accurate, and Buergenthal acknowledges that in the Preface of A Lucky Child.
“This book contains my recollections of events that took place more than six decades ago. These recollections, I am sure, are colored by the tricks that the passage of time and old age play on the memory: forgotten or inaccurate names of people; muddled facts and dates of events that took place either earlier or later than recounted; and references to events that did not happen quite as I describe them or that I believe I witnessed but may have only heard about. Because I did not write this book sooner, I could not consult those survivors who were with me in the camps or compare my recollections of specific events with theirs, and that I regret very much.”
Nonetheless, faded memories and recollections, or otherwise, this is a compelling Holocaust memoir, infused with details of life before the Holocaust, life during the Holocaust, including work camps, concentration camp life, and life after liberation. That Buergenthal, beginning at the age of eight, managed to survive and bear witness is an incredible feat in and of itself. Some may ask why he waited so long to tell his story.
In my opinion, that is not for us to question. Events of the past definitely tint our lives and perspectives. What some are eager to convey, others are eager to let recede into hidden compartments of our minds. We must remember, Buergenthal was a young boy, a boy who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, the demeaning, adverse and harsh living in the ghetto and in concentration camps, and was just into his teen years when liberation by the Soviets occurred.
Buergenthal has painted extremely descriptive word images of his experiences. He has given the reader an intimate look at daily life in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Within the appalling situations, there are little snippets of humor, of man’s kindness, and of the fight and strong will to survive, survive in order to be reunited with his parents.
Thoughts of Buergenthal’s parents are what kept him motivated through the hours, days, weeks, months and years. A young boy learned the ropes, so to speak, the actions that were necessary in order for him to survive. He witnessed things that would make adults shudder, and here he was, a child, having to endure the fears and agonies of the Holocaust. Yet, throughout everything, he managed to rid himself of hatred.
Within the atrocities and the adversity, there were moments of poignancy, where even the offender acted with humaneness, most likely due to sympathy for Buergenthal’s age, and the situation he was thrown into. He became a mascot of sorts, for Polish army troops, and was treated with affection and kindness by them. Within the agonizing days, he moved through life with a positive attitude, due to his dreams to believe he would be reunited with is family…their memories gave him strength to continue to survive as best he could. Within Buergenthal’s survival techniques, he managed to become a person of depth and good character.
His youth gave him opportunities to interact with the Nazis and with the Jews, opportunities that proved fruitful to his survival. He used every moment to advance his cause, yet through it all Buergenthal remained true to the ideals, ethics and morals his parents taught him. How inspiring. I read it in one day, and was unable to put it down for very long, without going back to reading it.
A Lucky Child is a compelling, poignant, inspirational memoir. Thomas Buergenthal’s portrayal of ordinary human beings, both good and evil, is not to be missed. It is a beautiful story, and one that is extremely illuminating. His story defines what life and survival is all about, and the importance of family within the confines of horror. Buergenthal was a lucky child who became a forthright, honest and sensitive adult. The memoir is one of great historical value. I highly recommend A Lucky Child to everyone. In my opinion it not only belongs in every personal library, but in the libraries of all educational institutions.
As an added piece of information, Thomas Buergenthal’s experiences during the Holocaust shaped his life in more ways than one can imagine. He “has dedicated his life to international law and the protection of human rights.” His experiences have lent him the insight and intensity necessary to oversee and empathize with not only Holocaust survivors, but the rights of all individuals, no matter their ethnicity. This lucky child has brought, and given, luck to other individuals through his humanistic efforts.
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