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A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy [Paperback]

Thomas Buergenthal , Elie Wiesel
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 16 2010 Back Bay Readers' Pick
Thomas Buergenthal, now a Judge in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, tells his astonishing experiences as a young boy in his memoir A LUCKY CHILD. He arrived at Auschwitz at age 10 after surviving two ghettos and a labor camp. Separated first from his mother and then his father, Buergenthal managed by his wits and some remarkable strokes of luck to survive on his own. Almost two years after his liberation, Buergenthal was miraculously reunited with his mother and in 1951 arrived in the U.S. to start a new life.

Now dedicated to helping those subjected to tyranny throughout the world, Buergenthal writes his story with a simple clarity that highlights the stark details of unimaginable hardship. A LUCKY CHILD is a book that demands to be read by all.

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"In the plainest words and the steadiest tones, Thomas Buergenthal delivers to us the child he once was. History and memory fail to ebb; rather, they accelerate and proliferate, and Buergenthal's voice is now more thunderous than ever. A work of visionary compassion."—Cynthia Ozick, author of Heir to the Glimmering World

"An extraordinary story, simply and beautifully told. Heartbreaking and thrilling, it examines what it means to be human, in every good and awful sense. Thomas Buergenthal remembers and renders the small mysteries and grand passions of childhood, even a childhood lived under the most horrific circumstances."—Elizabeth McCracken, author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

"The unsentimental tone of Buergenthal's writing magnifies his deliberate decision not to make melodrama out of a story that is plenty dramatic enough. Like Primo Levi and Anne Frank, Buergenthal can only tell the story of one life, but through that life we are led to consider and honor all the lives of those who weren't so lucky."—Kate Braestrup, author of Here If You Need Me

"Reminiscent of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel...Buergenthal [speaks] most eloquently for the millions of Holocaust victims who cannot."—The Oklahoman

"An incredible tale."—The Free Lance-Star

"Buergenthal's authentic, moving tale reveals that his lifelong commitment to human rights sprang from the ashes of Auschwitz."—Publishers Weekly

"Powerful....The author's story is astonishing and moving, and his capacity for forgiveness is remarkably heartening. An important new voice joins the chorus of survivors."—Kirkus Reviews

"A remarkable, sometimes astonishing story of finding protection and kindness from unlikely sources, uncanny narrow escapes and a powerfully strong will to live."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"You think you've heard it all....But this one is different. The clear, nonhectoring prose makes Buergenthal's personal story-and the enduring ethical questions it prompts-the stuff of a fast, gripping read."—Booklist

"A Lucky Child does not wallow in the horrors nor does it shirk the darkest events. It is a clear-headed account of Buergenthal's experiences and how they determined his life."—The Sydney Morning Herald

About the Author

Thomas Buergenthal served for more than ten years as the American judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague before returning to the United States in September 2010. He is a former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and former member of the UN Human Rights Committee. Recipient of the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize and member of the Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee, Buergenthal has been re-appointed professor of international law and human rights at the George Washington University Law School, where he had taught before his election to the ICJ.

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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wartime heroism takes many forms. Survival, honourably achieved, is the basis of this memoir of one young boy's victory over the unimaginable cruelties, the starvation and brutality of the Nazi concentration camps.
It is a story told long after the facts recounted, coolly, without a trace of self-pity; told objectively, with few adjectives or excessive sentiment — a straight-forward style which simply adds to the raw power of the narrative. The reader learns it is more than simple luck, as the title suggests, that allowed one small boy to outlast countless others who suffered and died under the same terrifying circumstances.
Good fortune had its part, no doubt; but so very few young children survived the Nazis' mass murder of Jewish families (and other targeted groups) that it becomes clear how a combination of factors, including a sharp natural intelligence, precocious courage, and perhaps a physical robustness, also played their part in preserving the life of this amazing boy. And the world can be thankful that it was preserved to become an adult life of real significance and positive contribution to the human condition, on a global level — because this "lucky child" lived on, eventually working to alleviate human suffering as an important jurist in the international courts of human rights.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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"One of the [German] tanks stopped near our group [which included the author at 5 years old and his parents]...And a young soldier, his body protruding from the open turret, his face covered in soot, yelled over to us in German, wanting to know who we were. After some hesitation, somebody answered that we were Jews, and another added, `German Jews.' `Nothing to worry about,' he yelled back. `The war will be over soon, and we'll all be able to go home again.' He waved at us and the tank moved forward. These very reassuring words brought us temporary relief...As fate would have it, they turned out to be the kindest words any German would address to us for a long time to come..."

The above comes from the beginning of this enthralling book by Thomas Buergenthal, currently an American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. (The above event in quotations took place just after Sept. 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland thus starting World War II {WWII}.)

This is Buergenthal's memoir of surviving WWII and Auschwitz as a child and young boy. We catch a glimpse of his parents and his serene life in Czechoslovakia before the war. Unfortunately, Hitler came to power in 1933 and his parents were Jewish.

These two facts turned the Buergenthals' life upside down. Thomas (almost six years old) and his parents were forced into a Jewish ghetto in Poland and two labour camps where they endured for four years. Then the family of three went to what some call the final destination for many: Auschwitz.

Ten-year-old Thomas, here separated from his parents, begins his lone odyssey at this point. By brainpower and with the help of lady luck, he survived the horrors of Auschwitz and the infamous "death march.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  104 reviews
73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible book... a must read April 7 2009
By ReneeSuz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Some books are remarkable and moving; this is one of them. Buergenthal recalls his boyhood under Hitler; from Jewish ghetto to work camp to Auschwitz. His story is one that never should have been written since odds were against him being a young Jewish boy. How did a young boy of eight years survive a work camp, how did that same boy at 10 years old live through Auschwitz.... even after reading Buergenthal's memoir it's unfathomable but truth is stranger than fiction.

The memoir continues through liberation by Soviet soldiers, time spent as 'mascot' to the Polish Army, a Jewish orphanage, reuniting with his mother at 12 1/2 years old and finally emigrating to America.

Buergenthals' book is more than just a memoir; it's also a book about learning to let go of hatred. He writes "we were forced to confront these emotions in a way that helped Mutti and me gradually overcome our hatred and desire for revenge. ... I doubt that we would have been able to preserve our sanity had we remained consumed by hatred for the rest of our lives.... while it was important not to forget what happened to us in the Holocaust, it was equally important not to hold the descendants of the perpetrators responsible for what was done to us, lest the cycle of hate and violence never end."

Thomas Buergenthal survived the Holocaust and has devoted his life to international and human rights law. He is currently the American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Lucky Child" that is also a family man, intelligent and resilient; forgiving and compassionate. July 27 2009
By Alter Wiener - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have been sharing my Holocaust experience with hundreds of life audiences. To one of the most frequent questions "how did you survive?" my reply is "I do not know, I have no clear cut answer; it is a combination of factors that I am, or I am not aware of." I can not attribute my survival to sole divine intervention, because God works in mysterious ways. I can not attribute my survival to mere luck. In February 1945, I decided to touch the electrified fence to be electrocuted. However, to abide by the tenets of my religious upbringing, that man should never commit suicide, I retreated at the last moment.

A clairvoyant (a palm reader) told the author's mother that her son would be lucky. Thomas was indeed lucky to survive Nazi killing centers, at the age of eleven, Very few, at the author's age could have survived Auschwitz or Sachsenhausen. He was unusually fortunate to be reunited, in December 1946 with his mother that also had survived the Holocaust. I wish I could be so lucky; I am the only survivor of my immediate family.

Throughout his ordeal, the author manifests his deep love for his parents. For a Holocaust survivor who had been incarcerated during his early school years to become an international law professor and a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague is indicative of the author's intelligence and erudition. A little Jewish boy, classified by the Nazis, to be inferior, proved himself to be superior. A victim of human rights violations became an ardent human rights advocate. Having all the reasons to be bitter, Thomas had chosen to be forgiving, compassionate and gracious.

A Lucky Child is a riveting narrative. The reader might be saddened reading about the author's tribulations during the Holocaust and its aftermath. The reader will be inspired by the author's tenacity and resilience exercised during the author's journey ensuing the Holocaust. I am not a jealous person, but I can not help myself not be envious of the author's accomplishments. Thomas Buergenthal is a shining example of human dignity. His book is not just a poignant memoir; it is a source of enlightenment for all ages.

Alter Wiener; author "From A Name to A Number"
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You must not pass this book by April 22 2009
By Lila Gustavus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A Lucky Child is a little different from other books on Holocaust because it is a memoir of a person, who as a child survived not only Auschwitz, but the ghetto that, like all Jewish ghettos, was liquidated, and two other labor camps. The miracle in it all is, only a handful of children came out of Auschwitz alive. Most of them had been murdered and burnt before they even got a chance to enter the camp, or were sent to Treblinka straight form ghettos where the same fate awaited. The author of this memoir is Thomas Buergenthal, an International Court of Justice judge, who devoted his life to making sure that what had happened in WWII, doesn't happen again. Mr. Buergenthal arrived at Auschwitz when he was ten and was abruptly and cruelly separated from his mother but thankfully was still together with his father. He went through the life in the camp and through the rest of the war trying his best to live, to survive and to finally get reconnected with his parents. He was a truly lucky child because while all the other children he managed to become friends with were killed, he always escaped that same, gruesome fate. Mr. Buergenthal, Tommy, was also miraculously reunited with his mother just when he started losing the hope that either of his parents survived Auschwitz.

Thomas Buergenthal essentially wrote a book of hope, resilience and a child's spirit that could never get extinguished. I absolutely loved it. It's a work of a great mind and heart and because it was written straight from the heart it takes on a deeply moving meaning. The prose is beautifully simple and almost dainty, which spoke to me clearer than any convoluted, rich in hyperboles and metaphors pieces ever could. And in this simplicity, the true questions shine through. Who does truly survive: the one who refuses to compromise their morality, dignity and soul, or the one who gives that up to preserve or prolong their life no matter what? How insane did the people who served up such a fate to the millions of innocents had to be? These and many other deep issues are what Buergenthal thinks about and also gives a reader the freedom to answer them individually. One aspect of the book that I particularly loved were the photographs of Thomas and his family. I thought it was wonderful to look at all these people, his mother, his father and many others, and be able to put a face to them, to their great spirit and personalities. And just like my experience in Auschwitz, these photographs make it more real, make you look at them and know that this is all true, that it isn't a dry historical fact only but many personal tragedies that can never be forgotten.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking! May 4 2009
By MariaFrancis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I couldn't put it down. I've read other survivor stories and what's so beautiful about this one is that the parent's love for their child was so strong and true, and Thomas's respect and love for his parents remained intact; he was not engulfed by the evil that was all around him. This book is a testament to the overriding power of love. I imagine its his parents love for him that kept his spirit willing to go on even as his body wanted to give up.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Miraculous Survival Jan. 8 2010
By VeraP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've read quite a lot of literature on the Holocaust, and I keep reading because each book teaches me something new. 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.
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