Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'A Lucky Child' by Thomas Buergenthal

Today is another Day of Remembrance and, as I mentioned in my previous post, I am writing here about a book that is just perfect for the remembering of Holocaust. First however, I would like to say a little bit on my experiences with the Nazi concentration camps and the horrifying legacy left by WWII. Having been born and raised in Poland I had been educated on the horrors of the extermination of the Jewish people quite thoroughly I thought. But it was all textbook knowledge that for a child in school had no other meaning apart from that of just another thing to study. It all changed with my first visit to Auschwitz as a high school student. When I finally had a chance to go through the barracks, to look at the gas chamber and the crematorium, when I could look at the chimney and imagine the smoke drifting upwards with the souls of all these innocent people, that’s when the cruel reality of the suffering hit me. That’s the reason why I believe that simply learning the dry facts at school is not enough to really try and understand the nightmare of genocide. This is also the reason why I think that books like A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal are relevant today and should always remain as such.

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.


********


Special Thanks to Anna B. from Hachette Book Group for sending me a copy of this book.