I’ve read quite a lot of literature on the Holocaust, and I keep reading because each book teaches me something new. I reviewed Scheisshaus Luck last month; my recent read was A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Tom Buergenthal. Buergenthal currently serves as the American judge on the International Court of Justice, and wrote the memoir to describe his experiences in concentration camps when he was just a child.
Few children survived the concentration camps – especially Auschwitz – making Buergenthal truly lucky. As children were systematically exterminated by the Nazis, he managed to escape death time and time again. Buergenthal was raised in captivity, traveling with his parents and then alone from a ghetto in Kielche to German labor camps, to Auschwitz, and finally to Sachsenhausen.
At every turn, Buergenthal survived due to a mixture of wit, determination, and sheer luck. Oddly, even getting into Auschwitz was luck, since he was not subjected to selections that most prisoners arriving there went through, and narrowly escaped being sent directly to the gas chambers. Buergenthal was finally liberated at the age, and luck struck again when he was miraculously reunited with his mother almost two years later.
Buergenthal’s Holocaust memories are brief, but he makes a point of all the kind acts in the midst of misery. There was the Nazi soldier who handed over his coffee to him when he was cold, the infirmary orderly who changed Buergenthal’s admittance card and hence saved him from the gas chamber, and the Norwegian prisoner Odd Nansen who bribed officials to keep Buergenthal alive. I think each Holocaust memoir has a message, and I felt that Buergenthal’s message was that people can be selfless and good even when they themselves are struggling to survive.