February 19, 2010

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal

BOOK #: 9
REASON READ: arc/are, ARC Reading Challenge, 100+ Challenge
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company
GENRE: Nonfiction, Memoir, History, Jewish Culture, War
FORMAT/PAGES: Hardcover/225
RATING: 4.5 Stars

The story of Thomas Buergenthal's childhood is one that will be surprising, surreal, and a tearjerker.

Thomas was a young boy of six when he and his parents were forced into a Jewish ghetto in Poland. Thomas watched as German soldiers came and took men and community leaders away and noticed they never returned. He watched the raids from his window. He heard the whisperings of his parents about the newest developments.

The family stayed in the ghetto for a couple of years and then worked in labor camps for a couple of years before they were sent to Auschwitz. Thomas was separated from his parents so the ten-year-old "lucky child", as the fortune-teller told his mother many years ago that he was, used his wits and charm, as well as some luck, and managed to survive Auschwitz. By some stroke of luck, after three years of many different adventures, Thomas was reunited with his mother and in 1951 he moved to America.

I liked the way Buergenthal wrote his story. I liked his choices of anecdotes. I liked his use of clever phrases and carefully selected adjectives and adverbs. I liked that there were photos of him and his parents, he as a small boy, and then later, after Auschwitz.

I was very touched by his movement and determination to spread the word about human rights violations. He is now a judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Even though I know children are very resilient, I was still stunned by this child's resilience in the face of such adversity and horror. He witnessed things no person, let alone a child, should ever have to witness.

While The Diary of Anne Frank is a wonderful story about the discrimination and hatred of the Jewish people and what hiding out for years to escape death was like during WWII, Buergenthal's story is told from right there in the thick of everything. He was not hidden, he was there in the camps. He was there escaping the gas chambers only to bear witness to horrible beatings, hangings, and shootings. I think that this book could seriously be the next great book about the Holocaust. I highly recommend it.

Some passages from the book:
"Every so often, we heard that this or that community leader or some other person had been picked up by the Gestapo, never to be seen again. My father and mother would discuss these events in whispered tones. Then I would hear one of them say that the victims must have been denounced to the Gestapo by our own people and that one had to be very careful what one said and to whom. 'Yes, the walls have ears..."

"The bodies of the prisoners were left hanging for a few days near the entrance to the barrack as a warning against further escape attempts. There were to be other executions in Henrykow. As time went on, they became routine; but I remember only the first."

"While I do believe that I survived the Holocaust in order to devote my life to the protection of human rights, I believe that, having survived, I have an obligation to try to do all I can to spare others, wherever they might be, from suffering a fate similar to that of the victims of the Holocaust."

Other Reviews of A Lucky Child:
Rhapsody in Books
Jo-Jo loves to read!!!
If you have reviewed this book, leave me a comment with the link to your review and I will post it here.


  1. I've had this for a while and your review has made me really anxious to read it.

  2. This is on my shelf, too, and I've been putting it off--I have to be in a certain mindset to tackle a holocaust book.

  3. This sounds like a really good one. No matter how many memoirs and stories I read about the holocaust, it never ceases to shock and greatly sadden me. I'm sure this is true of everyone. Great review!

  4. I in awe of this author -- he not only survived, with his soul intact, but went on to become a tremendous human rights advocate. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention.

  5. This seems like a wonderful story. It is on my wish list for a later date; excellent review.

  6. I also loved this book! I have a review here:


  7. This one is sitting on my coffee table and is demanding my attention. The author sounds like such an amazing person.

  8. I just don't think I can read another Holocaust memoir. It was such a horrific thing and leaves me so depressed after reading.

  9. I haven't heard of this book, but I am always intrigued by stories of that time and the people who lived through them. I have heard several holocaust survivors speak, but they are getting older and in not too long there will not be any left. It's important that their stories are preserved. There is a new Holocaust museum not too far from me in the suburbs of Chicago. if you ever come to Chicago, it's worth checking out.

  10. What a wonderful review...I also enjoyed this book! These were some great excerpts you provided also.

  11. How wonderful that he went on to fight for human rights - I think it's remarkable when someone is able to create meaning out of something as meaningless as the Holocaust.

  12. I've read some other reviews of this one Rebecca and I know that the classic Anne Frank will be revered but we need to give another perspective to the Holocaust. Have you read Maus I and II? I think an ELA teacher could do some tremendous teaching with the graphic novel and really attract those students who feel intimidated by Anne Frank. Great review!

  13. A quick question just based on my own curiosity: Did Buergenthal write the book in English or is it a translation from Polish?

  14. I think "lucky" is an understatement. I can't believe he was able to survive and even thrive ... let alone reunite with his mother.

  15. bohzo (hello) Rebecca

    I enjoyed reading your blog, i am owned by a 14 years old Siamese. I study cultures also.

    I am part of a culture that few have studied, i am a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, currently 10 people speak and write the language in the world.

    I will be finished learning it when i am about 110 years old.
    I loved Angelas Ashes by Frank McCourt.

    Megwetch nikan (Thank You, Friend)
    bama (Good Bye)

  16. I also read this one and thought it was very interesting. The whole being lucky thing was so bittersweet. One one hand he is lucky to be alive, on the other, how can we consider someone who witnessed such horror lucky? It certainly gives you a lot to think about.

    I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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