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A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy Hardcover – April 20, 2009

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Surviving Auschwitz
Read an excerpt from Thomas Buergenthal's A Lucky Child, the remarkable story of a Holocaust survivor [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (April 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316043400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316043403
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #725,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not many children who entered Auschwitz lived to tell the tale. The American judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Czechoslovakia-born Buergenthal, is one of the few. A 10-year-old inmate in August 1944 at Birkenau, Buergenthal was one of the death camp's youngest prisoners. He miraculously survived, thanks, among others, to a friendly kapo who made him an errand boy. Buergenthal's authentic, moving tale reveals that his lifelong commitment to human rights sprang from the ashes of Auschwitz. 16 b&w photos, 1 map. (Apr. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

You think you’ve heard it all: the roundups, deportations, transports, selections, hard labor, death camps (“That was the last time I saw my father”), crematoriums, and the rare miracle of survival. 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. Five years old in Czechoslovakia at the start of World War II, Buergenthal remembers being crowded into the ghetto and then, in 1944, feeling “lucky” to escape the gas chambers and get into Auschwitz, where he witnessed daily hangings and beatings, but with the help of a few adults, managed to survive. In a postwar orphanage, he learned to read and write but never received any mail, until in a heartrending climax, his mother finds him. In 1952, he immigrated to the U.S., and now, as human-rights lawyer, professor, and international judge, his childhood’s moral issues are rooted in his daily life, his tattooed number a reminder not so much of the past as of his obligation, as witness and survivor, to fight bigotry today. --Hazel Rochman

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Thank you for sharing your story Thomas Buergenthal.
Rochelle Vela
It is an easy three night read that will leave you wondering how these things happened to normal people.
E. A. Hara
An incredible story of survival and humanity even under the worst of circumstances.
Nina Germeyer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 76 people found the following review helpful By ReneeSuz VINE VOICE on April 7, 2009
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.
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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.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Lila Gustavus on April 22, 2009
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.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By MariaFrancis on May 4, 2009
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.
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