The primary childhood reference to the Nazis I recall noticing was from watching the movie The Sound of Music; even then, all I knew was that the Nazis were “bad guys” for some unknown reason: Why was the swastika so despised by the von Trapps? My childlike mind didn’t give that much thought, and focused on Julie Andrews’s beautiful songs. It was when I first began studying in Canada that I learned about the Holocaust, and the Nazified massacre of Jews, Gypsies, and other political and religious opponents. Since then, I thought I “knew” and “understood” that six million Jews were exterminated by the führer’s followers. However, as I came to realize when I finished reading A Lucky Child, I did not.
The book is a gripping testament to the author’s courage and survival throughout many elements of his six-year ordeal: his separation from his parents; his malnourishment; his exposure to rocks thrown by German children; his fear and avoidance of being selected for “liquidation”; the amputation of his toes; and outlasting the “Auschwitz death transport” are just a few examples to name.
Born into a Jewish family, Thomas Buergenthal was on the move since 1939, when the Hlinka Guard confiscated the property of the five-year-old’s kin in then-Czechoslovakia. Since that time, and up to the age of eleven, Buergenthal was trapped in a no-man’s-land between Poland and Czechoslovakia; incarcerated in a Jewish ghetto and labor camp; and transferred to the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. After being liberated by the Russians, he describes his foray under the care of the Polish army liberating Berlin, and later on his struggle to finding his parents while living in a Polish orphanage. In later chapters of the book, Buergenthal recalls his life in Germany following the war, and reflects on the feelings of anger and resentment he had for Germans who gave active or tacit approval of what he went through in the past.
Upon reaching seventeen years of age, Buergenthal moved to America where he pursued a wondrous career path in international human rights; most prominently, he served for more than ten years as a judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Throughout his description of his work, he makes it amply clear that his experiences have motivated him to act in the pursuit of universal human rights.
Reading through the vantage point of the penman’s youngster version, the tragedy of the National Socialists’ crimes was amplified in my eyes more than any six-million statistic can. Furthermore, one of the best aspects of this book is Buergenthal’s ability to articulate his thoughts on human morality throughout the narrative. Former prisoner B-2930—the number is still tattooed on his arm—has earned my admiration and respect for never giving in to the antagonistic forces that stood against him. I commend him for writing his book for others to remember, always.
Coincidentally and appropriately, I concluded perusing the book one day before this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(You can watch a five-minute interview with Thomas Buergenthal on Amazon.com: A Lucky Child.)
Amazon.com. (Producer). (n.d.). A lucky child: A memoir of surviving Auschwitz as a young boy (Thomas Buergenthal) [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m4E48V7ESUAK4
Beurgenthal, T. (2010). A lucky child: A memoir of surviving Auschwitz as a young boy (Paperback ed.). New York, NY: Back Bay Books.
International Court of Justice. (n.d.). Judge Thomas Buergenthal. Retrieved from http://www.icj-cij.org/court/?p1=1&p2=2&p3=1&judge=11
Wise, R. E. (Producer & Director). (1965). The sound of music [Motion picture]. The United States of America: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.